The Sunday News
Karina Schoengold and David Zilberman in their thesis, Water and Development: The Importance of Irrigation in Developing Countries, argue that irrigation leads to increased productivity. They say irrigation is a necessary input into the high yield varieties developed during the Green Revolution. One acre of irrigated cropland is worth multiple acres of rain-fed cropland. Globally, 40% of food is produced on irrigated land, which makes up only 17% of the land being cultivated.
In addition, increased supplies of irrigation water have been instrumental in feeding the populations of developing countries in the last 50 years. Irrigation water has increased food security and improved living standards in many parts of the world. With a rapidly growing world population and a limited food supply, 50 years ago it was common to hear concerns of food shortages and mass starvation, but all that changed due to irrigation, experts say.
One clear benefit of water projects is an expansion in the feasible land base for agricultural production and Vice President Kembo Mohadi last week reiterated that the country cannot continue to rely on grain and cereal imports when it has the capacity to utilise irrigation schemes that are lying idle throughout the country.
The Vice-President said equipping irrigation schemes and eventually irrigating crops was the most feasible solution to avert continuous importation of grain which requires the much-needed foreign currency.
“Our ultimate plan is to feed people through irrigation. We have more than 10 000 dams in the country, but there is no meaningful irrigation that is taking place, most of them are just master plans. For instance, Tokwe Mukosi, if they take up about 25 000 hectares of land under irrigation, we can develop that so that people can have food. We do not want a situation whereby we rely on imports of grain, we want to grow it (grain) internally. All the dams that we have will create irrigation schemes,” he said.
He added that crops under irrigation could sustain the nation as seen by the Tongaat Hulett irrigation scheme in the Lowveld which is about to harvest winter maize.
“The advantage is that, in that region we can plant winter maize because temperatures are high. We are saying so because we have an example of Tongaat (Hulett) who has just put 4 000 hectares of winter maize so we can still do it,” he said.
Parts of the country have already received some rain, and farmers have been encouraged to get their act together. VP Mohadi said the Pfumvudza/Intwasa programme, a crop production intensification approach under which farmers ensure the use of resources (inputs and labour) on a small area of land in order to optimise its management must be adopted.
“We are also encouraging that they (farmers) go the Pfumvudza way so that they maintain the moisture in the soil. With Pfumvudza we have what is called mulching, where farmers put grass and leaves so that moisture does not evaporate fast. I think we can do something,” he encouraged.
The agriculture sector is the backbone of an economy which provides the basic ingredients to mankind and now raw material for industrialisation. The lessons drawn from the economic history of many advanced countries tell us that agricultural prosperity contributed considerably in fostering economic advancement. It is correctly observed that, “The leading industrialised countries of today were once predominantly agricultural while the developing economies still have the dominance of agriculture and it largely contributes to the national income. In India, still 28 percent of national income comes from this sector.”