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Irrigation scheme cultivates harmony among families

Located in Ward 1 of Chipinge District, Manicaland Province, and one kilometre east of Birchenough Bridge is Maunganidze Irrigation Scheme, an enterprise popularly known for tomato and maize production.
The scheme was well known for producing nutritious horticultural produce for plot owners and the surrounding community and also provided employment to many who were casually engaged for weeding, spraying or harvesting.
For some, Maunganidze Irrigation Scheme was a source of produce for resale at nearby markets.
The farmer-managed scheme was established within Maunganidze village under Chief Mutema in 1997 by Government with funding from the European Union (EU).
 The 65.5ha irrigation scheme benefited 84 (32 females; 52 males) smallholder farmers who have a landholding of 0.8hectare per household.
Members of the irrigation scheme boasted of food and nutrition security at household level, while others managed to send their children to school using proceeds from the enterprise.
The story changed for the Maunganidze community in 2019 after Cyclone Idai destroyed irrigation equipment and swept some fields.
The cyclone destroyed canals, boreholes, caused flooding and destroyed the perimeter fence.
This resulted in the irrigation scheme operating below 50 percent capacity due to water shortage.
The Maunganidze Community became food insecure.
Women who have the sole responsibility of preparing food for families were affected as they had challenges securing nutritional food.
It became a challenge for many to continue sending children to school as their source of income had been affected.
The Zimbabwe Idai Recovery Project (ZIRP) being funded by the World Bank came to the rescue of Maunganidze Irrigation Scheme soon after the disaster and assisted with the repairs and empowerment of members.
The recovery projects were spearheaded by the United Nations specialised agents; the world Food Programme (WFP), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) among others.
World Food Programme monitoring assistant, Mr Peter Nyenya said when they came in with the recovery project, members of the community also benefited.
“We worked with 120 participants from the community on the recovery project consisting of 67 females and 53 males,” he said. “WFP was providing money for participants and they also received 50 kilogrammes of cereals, cooking oil and pulses among other things.
“We repaired drainage storms, drilled boreholes and equipped them with submersible pumps.”
Rehabilitation of the infrastructure by UNOPS is almost nearing completion with major highlights being fencing of the scheme, repairing of damaged canals, boreholes and installation of 237 solar panels to assist with additional power for watering the plots.
This is expected to drastically reduce farmers’ utility bills which were taking up to 85 percent of their budget.
Farmers are also expected to improve on land use as more water will be available to plot holders.
Members of the scheme have indicated the rehabilitation exercise has increased the irrigable area by 50 percent.
The community was also trained in resilience building against shocks.
The farmers were also assisted with an input pack that consisted of fertilisers, maize and sugar bean seeds.
This helped them to quickly recover from the impact of the cyclone.
This intervention also empowered farmers to increase yields for maize, sugar beans and other crops.
Besides the inputs, all 84 farmers were trained in agronomy and good agricultural practices, including safe use of pesticides.
Training was also done on agribusiness development where farmers were linked to viable markets for their produce.
FAO appointed a resident farm manager who worked together with an Agritex officer to equip farmers with the requisite farming skills.
Members of the Maunganidze Irrigation Scheme have gathered knowledge on agriculture and they now produce on a commercial scale moving away from subsistence farming.
Market linkages have been brokered, resulting in the scheme being more market oriented in their production programmes.
The farmers now sell to local buyers and have now been contracted by SeedCo.
One of the beneficiaries, Mrs Prisca Sithole, said cases of gender-based violence had also declined due to the resuscitation of the irrigation scheme.
“When the irrigation project was affected by Cyclone Idai we did not have any other sources of income,” she said. “Couples started fighting and there was an increase in domestic violence. Now that the scheme is running, people are now living in harmony.
“After Cyclone Idai, we were engaging in piece jobs, but we were failing to sustain ourselves from the proceeds. After the rehabilitation of our irrigation scheme, we are now back to eating nutritious food and this helps reduce malnutrition among children.”
Mrs Sithole said students were now back at schools as parents could now afford to pay fees.
“Some of the girls eloped while others were withdrawn from school. Girls were the most affected. Now our girls are back at school,” she said.
Mrs Masiyiwa Changadzo, a widow, said the resuscitation of the irrigation scheme had helped her a lot.
“The destruction on boreholes had affected us,” she said. “We could no longer irrigate our plots. I had to reduce the area under cropping and this meant a loss of revenue. I also had challenges paying for electricity bills.
“I was now growing crops on 0,1 hectare which I had the capacity to irrigate. The boreholes have been repaired and we have a solar system; we can irrigate even when there is no electricity.
“Solar power has also resulted in us using less money for electricity. We thank the World Bank for the intervention.”
A plot owner 27-year-old Mr Endurance Mhlanga said instead of looking for employment, he was working full time on the scheme and was doing well.
“I also hire people to work on the plot,” he said.
“I am now able to grow high value crops which give better returns. All plot owners pay US$180 per year towards electricity and security charges.
“After Cyclone Idai it was a challenge to pay for these bills but now we do not have any problem.
“The resuscitation of the scheme means a revival of our economy here in Maunganidze.”
For the winter cropping season, farmers have started working on 35 hectares of tomatoes with expected yield of 30 tonnes per hectare.
The produce will be both informal markets and negotiations are under way with Mozambican buyers for off taking tomatoes.
Other crops being grown include 1.5hectares onions with expected yield of 40 tonnes per hectare, five hectares of fine beans with expected yield of one tonne per hectare under SeedCo contract and 29 hectares of sugar beans with expected yield of 1,5 tonnes per hectare.
Of these, 15ha are under SeedCo contract, Devuli co-operative have indicated their interest as an off taker for commodity sugar beans.
For crops that are not under contract farming, farmers are self-financing.
The irrigation scheme has documented and well-kept financial and other records.
Between 2020-2021 the scheme hosted representatives from 42 irrigation schemes nationwide on learning visits especially on good governance, particularly on operation and maintenance which leads to scheme sustainability.
The irrigation scheme is now market oriented and enjoys a good rapport with off takers.
During 2021, farmers mobilised own funds to drill borehole number 13 at a cost of US$7 000, an indication that the scheme will be able to sustain itself well after the ZIRP comes to an end.
– Herald
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