The Sunday News
Vincent Gono, Features Editor
MR Watson Magovere of Ward 8 in Vungu constituency looks at what is left of the heavily silted Mkoba Dam which is fed from Mkoba River in the Midlands Province poignantly and shakes his head as if in disbelief of what he is seeing.
The dam used to be the life giving artery of communities in the ward at its inception as it sustained thriving agricultural activities at Mkoba Irrigation Scheme giving a semblance of food security in the naturally not so productive area.
Now the dam is a mere shadow of its former self while the irrigation equipment has suffered both vandalism and neglect leaving the scheme derelict and crying out loud for attention.
“We used to grow crops here for our consumption and a little surplus for sale. The money we got was always channelled towards other essential services that we require such as health and school fees. We never really had problems getting food. But for the past couple of years the irrigation wasn’t functional and we have been suffering. We now buy vegetables as what have remained are wells that we use for watering but they dry up very quickly, making gardening seasonal. We are suffering,” said Mr Magovere.
He said with changes in climate, rain fed agriculture was becoming a pie in the high sky and irrigation schemes such as Mkoba were coming in handy but that they were affected by a coterie of challenges that made life a lot more difficult for communities.
The situation in the Midlands’ Vungu Constituency mirrors the sad state of many irrigation schemes in the country, at least according to the Deputy Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement Douglas Karoro. He admitted the sorry state of the country’s irrigation schemes saying if nothing is done urgently most irrigation schemes will soon belong to the archives of once thriving agricultural hubs.
“I toured irrigation schemes in the Midlands Province a couple of weeks ago and realised that our irrigation schemes are facing multiple challenges which if not addressed, would lead to the collapse of most if not all schemes. Government through our ministry needs to intervene as a matter of urgency to give life to the vestiges of the schemes that used to be communal agricultural areas.
“What I noted is that most challenges require an inter-ministerial approach to tackle them as most of the schemes are collapsing under the weight of conspiring human activities such as illegal mining, cultivation on river banks and illegal settlements. All these activities lead to heavy siltation of the rivers and the dams,” said Deputy Minister Karoro.
In terms of equipment he said it was worrying that most of the equipment had been vandalised owing to long periods of neglect and non-functionality. He added that at some of the schemes the power utility — Zesa had to remove transformers fearing that they were going to be vandalised.
He slammed traditional leaders who were illegally settling people in areas not designated for human habitation saying such settlements were going to be removed.
“We have traditional leaders settling people on dam catchment zones and areas reserved for cattle grazing after making them pay beasts. This is illegal. Members are urged to report this to police. This is a form of corruption that should be reported to authorities so that corrective action is taken,” he said.
Deputy Minister Karoro said some of the illegal settlements were removed in other areas amid resistance. He said it was brought to his attention that the rising cost of inputs had not spared farmers in the irrigation sector.
“The high cost of farming inputs and the absence of preservation facilities like cold rooms is also having a knock on the farmers’ efforts in those areas where irrigation schemes are up and running. Most of the schemes that we visited no longer run all year round due to water shortages from July to December but we are going to work on that so that most of the schemes are revived,” he said.
He added that the Government had put in place various facilities in support of irrigation rehabilitation and development to mitigate the effects of climate change which was causing prolonged droughts making rain fed agriculture impossible.
Deputy Minister Karoro said there were a number of irrigation initiatives that the country was pursuing in the quest to ensure its communities were food secure, some of which were being implemented through the Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP).
“I think you are also aware of the National Accelerated Irrigation Rehabilitation and Development Programme aimed at mitigating vulnerability of agriculture to droughts. The programme is targeting to add 200 hectares per district per year, with the objective of ensuring food security at household level.
“The programme recognises that there needs to be good governance systems, to avoid rehabilitated irrigation infrastructure falling into disrepair. This avoids much funding going towards the same projects few years later, following failure,” said Deputy Minister Karoro.
He admitted the lack of financial resources dogging the Government in developing and reviving irrigation schemes saying the Government could not go it alone and therefore had been working in partnership with various institutions, companies and individuals to achieve its intended objectives.
The deputy minister said Vungu Constituency was allocated two tractors under the Brazilian More Food for Africa programme which have since broken down as members have very little or no training on how to operate them.
Vungu Constituency National Assembly member Cde Omega Sibanda who was also part of the tour team said he was going to engage the traditional leaders to stop resettling people on dam catchment areas.
He said the biggest challenge was that of unregulated mining activities taking place in his constituency where Mkoba irrigation in Ward 8, Mambanjeni and Shagari in Ward 7 were suffering siltation caused by amakorokoza and illegal settlements.
He said water in Mambanjeni Dam was contaminated by affluent from Gweru industries while at Shagari, the dam wall needed to be reconstructed while irrigation canals needed repairs.
“We want to ensure household food security and developing our irrigation schemes is the only sure way to achieve it. We toured our irrigation schemes with Deputy Minister Karoro so that he gets first hand information on the problems that our communities are facing.
“He came, he saw and he promised that the ministry was going to work out something. We are hopeful that our irrigation schemes are going to be revived,” said Cde Sibanda.