Urban Irrigation Schemes Helping Residents Escape Hunger

By Dumisani Nyoni

Bulawayo, March 09, 2016 – FOR Nomqhele Chiwutsi, a single mother of five, the loss of her job in 2014 was a devastating experience for someone who was single-handedly fending for her children.

Hailing from a city whose offspring is used to crossing into neighbouring South Africa just after secondary school in search of scarce jobs, hers was a different case.

The thought of abandoning her children for the often harsh life of eGoli (Johannesburg) was always going to be a tough choice for her.

Chiwutsi has now found occupation in the old practice of urban farming and a way around the city’s perennial water woes, coupled with the skies which have not been so generous past few months.

She is now a member of an irrigation scheme which has often seen beneficiaries of boreholes sunk by donors practise gardening.

“I found it difficult to support my children before joining this scheme,” says Chiwutsi, a Sizinda resident.

“I tried many things like selling airtime but it all failed. I then decided to try gardening after we got a borehole from SNV. It’s real paying off because I can send my children to school.”

She has had no regrets.

Chiwutsi’s story is a familiar one in Bulawayo where some residents have resorted to irrigation schemes using boreholes as a way of augmenting their income and food security in the face of high unemployment in the southern African nation.

A number of residents in the city, especially in western suburbs, have formed cooperatives to practise irrigation or gardening using borehole water.

According to the Bulawayo City Council (BCC), boreholes were donated by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to help residents improve their food security throughout the year.

Besides gardening, during rainy season, residents practice urban farming where they produce maize crops and sweet potatoes, among others.

A recent survey by RadioVOP revealed that irrigation was now a growing trend among some communities like Tshabalala, Sizinda, Magwegwe North, Emakhandeni, Old Pumula and Nkulumane, to stave off hunger.

In the city’s eastern suburbs, the trend was common in Richmond, Mahatshula and Fig Tree.

“This helps us a lot to meet our dietary requirements and even sell to local markets to meet some of our financial obligations, particularly school fees for our children,” said Bambanani Community Development Initiative member, Mduduzi Ndlovu, whose cooperative is based in Magwegwe.  

The cooperative has more than 30 members.

Ndlovu said they got donations of boreholes from NGOs like Dabane Trust and SNV Netherlands Development Organisation.

He said they grow crops like maize meal, sweet potatoes, potatoes, green vegetables, tomatoes, cabbages, peas, among others.

“We sell most of our produce in town, for example, a head of cabbage goes for a dollar. So I can say we are surviving out of this,” he said.

Bulawayo Progressive Residents’ Association (Bupra) information manager, Zibusiso Dube said among those practicing urban farming were cooperatives formed by NGOs for purposes of poverty alleviation.

“These cooperatives are beneficiaries of gardens that they use to supplement their food sources, and also to sell to augment their incomes,” Dube said.

Dube said this has been necessitated by high unemployment, with people of working age seeking alternative means of supporting themselves.

“It is also an opportunity for enterprising residents to augment their income, and also for households to access cheaper vegetables,” he added.

Dube said as long as by-laws were adhered to, urban agriculture was an important component of residents’ lives that needs to be promoted and protected.

BCC senior public relations officer Nesisa Mpofu said some of the cooperatives and boreholes were set up by NGOs working with residents towards ensuring sustainable livelihoods in communities.

“The projects would be targeted at the disadvantaged members of the community. Once projects come to an end, the boreholes are handed to council for management and maintenance,” she said.

“We encourage residents to use borehole for gardening purposes.”

Mpofu said the main reason why residents were practicing gardening was to boost food security for themselves and their families, to try and earn an income, and for livelihoods among others.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that more than 800 million people around the world practice urban agriculture and it has helped cushion them against rising food costs and insecurity.

FAO says the number of hungry people has risen to over one billion, with the “urban poor particularly being vulnerable.”


Zimbabwe is already facing a food crisis. According to the agriculture ministry, the country requires 2.2 million tonnes to meet its annual maize requirements.