Scarce Rainfall Or Costly Irrigation, Farmers At Crossroads

By Mark Mhukayesango

Gweru, January 27, 2016 – FARMERS in Midlands province are confronted with difficult choices on whether to wait for erratic rainfall or take up irrigation to save their crops from the current dry spell.

Meanwhile, provincial chief Agritex officer, Peter Chamisa has urged farmers in Gokwe, Kwekwe, Shurugwi and some parts of the province to consider replanting after delayed rainfall this cropping season resulted in massive crop failure.

“Hunger is looming in our province because only 40 percent of land has been planted,” Chamisa said.

“Most farmers feared running losses because there were no rains, but we are urging farmers to continue planting to ensure food security in the province.”

As El Nino threatens yet another disastrous season, Chamisa urged farmers to also consider irrigation, an option which the farmers feel was beyond their means due to a combination high tariffs imposed by the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) and increasingly derelict irrigation schemes in the province.

Farmers who spoke to RadioVOP said irrigation remained a costly option and further lamented government’s continued failure to subsidise their water bills.

Zinwa charges $7.82 per mega litre and this, coupled with high electricity tariffs, utility costs have hit the irrigation schemes which are currently operating at below 50 percent capacity.

Shurugwi farmer, Gremma, Mutandavari told RadioVOP that most irrigation schemes were operating with aging equipment which could not sustain their project needs.

He further called for government support in efforts to restore their viability.

Mutandavari, who heads the Simbaneuta Irrigation scheme, felt Zinwa should lower its tariffs to enable farmers to produce food for a starving nation.

“Zinwa is refusing to revise water tariffs which are too high considering that farmers also need inputs like fertilisers and seed,” said Mutandavari.

“This is a disincentive for farming in Zimbabwe since the rainfall patterns are not predictable anymore.”

Mutandavari said farmers are already bearing the cost of replanting through buying seed and footing cultivation costs.

Cain Maposa, an agricultural economics expert, said irrigation was a very costly option for struggling farmers who are chasing profits through their farming enterprise.

After factoring all the costs, Maposa said, farmers are left with virtually nothing to take them through the season.

“Irrigation is not a profitable venture these days; but in my years in agriculture, I fail to understand why our agricultural system still depends on rain fed agriculture when other countries can engage in farming activities throughout the year,” he said.

Zimbabwe relies on rain fed agriculture with a few Arda irrigation schemes still operational in the country.

Memory Mapenzauswa, a farmer in Silobela, said farmers in her area have shifted from the traditional maize to small grains which are more drought resistant.

“Our entire maize crop wilted and now I’m looking at planting rapoko, sorghum and beans because they do not require much rain. If not, we will suffer from hunger,” Mapenzauswa said.

To cover the current food deficit, Zimbabwe requires 1,7 million metric tonnes of grain imports.

The dry spell has also wreaked havoc in a province which has since lost an estimated 1000 cattle due to lack of pastures.

Authorities have urged livestock farmers to consider raising turkeys, rabbits, quails among others to mitigate against the loss of livestock during drought periods.