In 1989, government irrigation schemes began changing the lives of farmers in southeast Zimbabwe’s Insiza district. Sibongile Sibanda is a 58-year old woman and long-time beneficiary of the schemes. She says, “I have been farming here at Silalabuhwa since 1991 and it has made a big difference in my life.”
Ms. Sibanda and other local women accepted the government’s invitation to participate in the irrigation scheme. The government allocated land to the farmers and built irrigation canals.
Since she received land through the irrigation scheme, Ms. Sibanda has been able to feed her family and sell enough surplus food to pay for her three children’s secondary education.
Like other districts in the province of Matabeleland South, Insiza receives little rainfall. Villagers in this district 120 kilometres east of Bulawayo have faced hunger in the past and have relied on food from donor agencies.
Now, several irrigation schemes in the district provide water to more than 120 hectares of land. These schemes provide a source of income and improved food security.
Most of the farmers in the schemes are women. The women practise crop rotation – maize, sugar, beans, wheat, and groundnuts – to maximize their yields.
Ms. Sibanda says the schemes have increased crop yields. She says, “We mainly practise subsistence farming and it really helps us when it comes to food security at household level.… This area does not get good rains that are sufficient for meaningful crop production. Therefore, irrigation schemes are the answer to our problems.”
Sixty-three-year-old Thembelenkosini Mathuthu is another beneficiary. Ms. Mathuthu agrees that the lack of rain stops local farmers from growing enough to survive. She adds, “I hope the Swinge Irrigation Scheme continues to flourish because it has been of great benefit to us.”
Ms. Mathuthu is quick to point out that the government needs to chip in with more funding if the irrigation schemes are to benefit many households.
Ms. Nomusa Dlamini grows paprika at one of the irrigation schemes. She and other women have switched from planting their usual maize to growing paprika for the market. But access to fertilizers is a problem. She explains, “We have to go as far as Gwanda or Filabusi towns, which are very far … just to buy fertilizers.”
Ms. Dlamini says that local farmers need a Grain Marketing Board sub-depot near them because they cannot afford the transport costs to and from Filabusi. The government-owned marketing board pays higher prices than private companies. Also, farmers would benefit from subsidized inputs offered to all farmers who supply the marketing board with grain.
Ms. Dlamini feels positive about the irrigation scheme but says the farmers need help. She explains, “In as far as food security at household level is concerned, irrigation schemes are the only practical solution to our situation, and we appeal to those who are willing to help us.”