Dumisani Nsingo, Senior Farming Reporter
THE First Lady Dr Grace Mugabe is expected to officially open one of the biggest agricultural projects she has been spearheading, Bulawayo Kraal Irrigation Scheme in Binga District, Matabeleland North Province before the end of this month.
Speaking after a tour of the irrigation scheme by the Sunday News Farming crew on Thursday, Matabeleland North Department of Irrigation Chief Engineer Charles Makhula praised the First Lady for her unwavering support and commitment towards ensuring that the completion of the project was expedited.
The irrigation scheme is part of the Zambezi Green Valley (Zagreva) project, which seeks to ensure a green belt in areas along the Zambezi River stretching from Kazungula to Kariba and has been described as a major step towards addressing the country’s perennial food shortages.
However, work at the irrigation scheme started to take shape after the First Lady voluntarily became involved in the project two years ago to ensure that it was completed within the shortest possible time.
“The coming in of the First Lady into this project managed to push everyone involved in it to produce and perform their duties diligently as she wanted it to benefit mostly women, youths from the district, including those that had their fields taken over by the project.
“In its essence the scheme was meant to improve food security in the district. At the moment we are only waiting to be advised of the date, the First Lady will officially commission Phase I but all indications point out that it should be before the end of this month,” said Eng Makhula.
Binga is one of the country’s driest areas with relatively very low annual rainfall and infertile soils, a situation which makes rain-fed cropping unreliable with optimum yields only expected to be realised through irrigating.
Eng Makhula said cropping of 100 hectares of maize at the 200 hectares of the project’s Phase I was done last month.
“Cropping of maize was done three weeks ago but we had a few challenges with regards to our pumps which experienced cracked valves due to the effects of floods but we have since started stripping and assembling and we expect to be done tomorrow (Friday).
“We were also experiencing a problem with our pipelines but that has been sorted out as well so in a nut shell Phase I is almost done and dusted. The planted area is 100 hectares and we expect cropping to be staggered,” he said.
The project is a partnership between a private investor, Jopa Investment and the Binga community.
“The project will be run through a partnership between Jopa Investment and the community but the nature of agreement is still being finalised but it is largely envisaged to be 50-50 in terms of profit sharing. The Government is continuing to partner investors and what we need is the transfer of skills,” said Eng Makhula.
He said Phase II of the irrigation scheme was expected to be commissioned later this year or at the beginning of next year.
“As a department we are committed to increasing the hectares of the scheme. We have already started clearing another 200 hectares for Phase II of the project as well as starting the procurement process for various components that will be needed. We expect to commission Phase II late this year or early next year,” said Eng Makhula.
If the entire scope of the project is fully implemented the irrigation scheme’s arable land is estimated to be over 5 000 hectares making it the biggest in the country.
Binga Rural District Council chief executive officer Mr Joshua Muzamba said the irrigation scheme was likely to play a role in spearheading the growth of the district’s economy.
“We are very excited (by the beginning of cropping activities at the irrigation scheme) because it opens up a lot of economic opportunities, forward stream we are obviously going to benefit from the running of that scheme in terms of employment for the local communities, in terms of setting commercial services to service the needs and requirements of the irrigation scheme.
“We know that there will be a lot of inputs coming into the district-warehousing and we also know there will be a lot of outputs coming out of the district in terms of the produce, so we are talking of transportation. It can be by water or land…We know that it’s going to put us on the map in terms of attracting other investors as a preferred investment destination in the country,” said Mr Muzamba.