Dumisani Nsingo, Senior Farming Reporter
THE Government is looking at re-engaging a foreign firm for the facilitation of a $60 million irrigation infrastructural development facility as it forges ahead with plans to improve the country’s food security.
Speaking at a southern region two-day centre pivot irrigation system training workshop in Umguza last week, Matabeleland North Department of Irrigation Chief Engineer Charles Makhula said Government was negotiating with a foreign firm to fund a $60 million centre pivot irrigation system facility to supersede the $7 million facility it facilitated which saw the Spanish government dispatching 80 centre pivot irrigation into the country.
The seminar drew beneficiaries of centre pivots from Matabeleland North and South, Masvingo and Midlands provinces.
The 80 centre pivots were meant to aid irrigation under the Command Agriculture Programme, as Government moves to adopt new technologies and strengthen infrastructural development in support of the successful import-substitution programme.
“The contractor whom we are dealing with is actually in the process of negotiating with our Government for a bigger facility-this was a $7 million facility and we are now going to have a bigger, $60 million facility. It should be starting between June and August,” said Eng Makhula.
He also said Government recently channeled an additional $500 000 to ensure that all the 80 centre pivots it distributed across the country’s provinces were operational.
“Government was forced to come back and put $500 000 for the operationalisation of all the 80 centre pivots. It appears that some of the beneficiaries that had expressed to have the capacity to operate the equipment weren’t telling the truth. In Matabeleland North we had four that were still to be connected,” said Eng Makhula.
He said some of the beneficiaries that had expressed capability and capacity to ensure the equipment was operational had not done so to date.
“The criterion for the selection of beneficiaries was such that a farmer should have adequate water supply, power as well as water pipelines and in the event that one didn’t have these they should have exhibited to be in a position to have the required resources within a short space of time,” said Eng Makhula.
He said the purpose of the workshop was to ensure appropriate use of the irrigation infrastructure by the beneficiaries.
“The purpose of this workshop is to capacitate farmers who got centre pivots and other gadgets from Spanish facility which actually entailed farmers getting 80 pivots for the whole nation. Specifically we want to train them to use this equipment and be productive for at least 25 years.
“The basic plan for this facility was for Zimbabwe to become self-sufficient and be reliant on local farmers as well as try to spearhead issues to do with job creation, improve cash circulating and avoiding imports of food stuffs and among other things,” said Eng Makhula.
One of the beneficiaries, Mr Elisha Tamirepi of Chiredzi in Masvingo Province hinted that there was a need for the centre pivot irrigation equipment to have readily available back up spares so as to ensure unhindered production.
However, Eng Makhula allayed fears of the irrigation equipment lying idle after being operational for a few years saying:
“The contractor that we are dealing with is actually a reputable company. The company sources its equipment from outside the country and it has a contract to maintain these pieces of equipment for at least a year”.
He said in Matabeleland North, Department of Irrigation officials were on the ground assisting farmers to install the remaining components and infrastructure needed to ensure the centre pivots start operating.
“Ensuring that the centre pivots are operational is part of our contribution under the 100 day work plan. In our area of jurisdiction all the pivots have been fitted. Farmers had challenges operationalising them and Government has come back to help them and as of now we have fitted two, we are yet to do two more.
“In the next two weeks by the way, contractors have been already paid so we expect them to deliver this equipment that will be in line with our winter plant so that all the pivots given to Matabeleland North under this facility are working,” said Eng Makhula.
Zimbabwe and other countries in Southern Africa have of late been experiencing short rainy seasons and sometimes floods as the effects of climate change manifest thus the need to promote irrigation farming.
The biggest challenge Zimbabwe has been facing over the years, has not been inadequate rainfall, but unpredictable rainfall patterns, inconsistent with the traditional farming season.
Most communal farmers have thus failed to harvest as they rely mostly on the rains to see through their crops to maturity, yet the rainy seasons have been consistently shorter than anticipated.
However, the Government has started its accelerated irrigation infrastructure development programme aimed at putting in place 200 hectares per district under irrigation annually over the next 10 years as the country forges ahead to be food self-sufficient.-@DNsingo