Zimbabwe: Farmers adopt drip irrigation

| March 7, 2016

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Rose Mitchell is a small-scale pumpkin farmer. A few years ago, Mrs. Mitchell started using drip irrigation on her farm. Ever since, her pumpkins fetch higher prices at the market in Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe. In fact, one of her pumpkins, weighing in at 80 kilograms, sold for $50.

Mrs. Mitchell couldn’t hide her joy.

Photo: Mrs. Mitchell selling her pumpkin at the market. Credit: Nqobani Ndolovu

Photo: Mrs. Mitchell selling her pumpkin at the market. Credit: Nqobani Ndlovu

But Mrs. Mitchell’s farm wasn’t always so productive and lucrative. Her husband used to do all the farming work on their plot of land, and years of poor rainfall led to poor harvests.

Her husband died in 2011. After his passing, Mrs. Mitchell was at a loss. The government pension she received every month was not enough to sustain her and her family. She says: “I honestly did not think I could take care of my family after my husband passed on. I struggled to pay tuition fees for my children, let alone pay the rent every month and buy other basics.”

In 2012, she attended a training workshop on drip irrigation for small-scale farmers, presented by an NGO called Amalima. She learned that drip irrigation is a method that helps farmers save water and fertilizer by allowing water to drip slowly onto the roots of a crop.

After the training, Mrs. Mitchell took a risk. She mortgaged part of her plot to secure a bank loan. With the loan, she bought a drip irrigation kit. The kit includes a pump, a tank, solar panels, and batteries and cost $6000 US. She says, “It was a huge gamble [to buy such a costly kit], but it’s now paying off. I have since managed to pay back the loan and [can] take care of my children.”

Stan Khumalo is an irrigation expert based in the Lupane area of Matabeleland North in Zimbabwe. He says drip irrigation is the way to go for farmers like Mrs. Mitchell, who live in drier parts of the country. Mr. Khumalo says drip irrigation uses water more efficiently than flood or sprinkler irrigation systems.

Garikayi Msika is vice-president of Zimbabwe’s National Farmers Union. According to Mr. Msika, most countries are moving away from rainfed agriculture and adopting drip irrigation and other technologies. He adds, “There is uncertainty in rainfall patterns [and] hence a threat to serious farming. Drip irrigation cannot be ignored.”

Mrs. Mitchell is not the only farmer who has succeeded with drip irrigation. Ms. Nonsikelelo Mnguni farms in Umguza, in west central Zimbabwe, near Bulawayo. She says shifting from rainfed agriculture to drip irrigation was the best decision she could have made. Ms. Mnguni says drip irrigation allows her to harvest maize two or three times a year. With the money she made, she bought a second-hand Japanese car.

Mrs. Mitchell says. “[The f]uture looks bright for me, and my dream to set up an orphanage as a way of giving back to the community has come true, thanks to Amalima.”