Sukulwenkosi Dube-Matutu, columnist
FARMERS at an irrigation scheme in Bulilima, Matabeleland South Province, expect high foreign exchange returns after marketing their business through the production of paprika and saffron spices for export to Germany and Italy.
After successive years of poor harvests, farmers at Moza Irrigation Scheme in Ward 5 of Gampu Village in Bulilima not only expect a bumper harvest this year, but also increased income from exports.
The government has put in place various agricultural programs aimed at transforming subsistence agriculture into commercial agriculture as the Second Republic accelerates rural development and industrialization in line with Vision 2030.
As part of these measures, the government has deployed managers in irrigation schemes across the country, including the Moza irrigation scheme, to maximize production, thereby ensuring food security and nutrition.
The government has said that irrigation systems must ensure food security, stressing that agriculture is an activity that improves household incomes and livelihoods.
The government has also engaged partners to invest in various irrigation systems.
At Moza Irrigation Scheme, a Harare-based non-governmental organization Cesvi Zimbabwe was tapped and invested US$612,000 to rehabilitate and upgrade the system.
The 96-hectare irrigation system has been underutilized for several years due to water problems.
Farmers in the project relied on a flood system that consumed a lot of water, resulting in huge water bills that farmers struggled to pay.
The project’s infrastructure was also dilapidated and engines constantly failed.
The rehabilitation involved replacing a canal system that was used in the irrigation system with a solar-powered drip irrigation system.
Forty hectares were rehabilitated as part of the first phase.
The farmers have 40 hectares under paprika in partnership with Cesvi and the remaining 56 hectares under corn, sugar beans, vegetables, tomatoes, onions and garlic.
The Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (Arda) should also intervene.
A villager who operates the irrigation, Mrs. Esnat Nleya, said the rehabilitation of the system had marked a new dawn for the farmers.
She said they now expected to make huge profits on their exports.
“The water system we used was limiting our production, but now that we have a drip system, our crops are doing well.
We are expecting a bumper harvest as our crops are doing well.
This partnership we have with the investor has changed the way we farm.
We are now marketing and planting commercial products.
We will now be able to put food on our tables and also make good profits on our exports,” she said.
“Our agricultural activities are now on another level because we are now working under the direction of a manager.
We have been educated on farming as a business and we continue to receive training.
We now know that the types of crops we plant matter because they can make or break our business. »
Ms Nleya said that over time they expect to increase the variety of their crops and want to focus mainly on those that are in high demand.
Bulilima District Agritex Extension Officer Mr. Peter Masoja said the process of harvesting the paprika has started for export to Germany and Italy.
“The paprika harvesting process has begun. It must first be hardened and stored before it is ready.
It will be exported to Germany and Italy on dates which have not yet been communicated,” he said.
Area Councilor Promise Masibi who is also a member of Irrigation said the project had 200 beneficiaries from Bulilima and Tsholotsho neighborhoods.
She said this development will improve the livelihoods of many households.
Cllr Masibi said the irrigation scheme will soon become a breadbasket for the whole district and beyond.
She said 40 hectares have been allocated for growing crops that will be exported, namely paprika and saffron.
She said some farmers had been hired to work in the area.
Cllr Masibi said that once the products are sold, a certain percentage will be given to the farmers operating in the irrigation scheme.
“Arda has also partnered with farmers and we expect them to occupy 16 hectares.
Under this piece of land, farmers will work in groups of 10 and there will be a systematic pattern of how they will plant their crops and what types of crops will be planted.
“The remaining land belongs solely to the farmers and they will decide what kind of crops they will plant,” she said.
Cllr Masibi said he wants the remaining 56 hectares which are still under flood system to be upgraded to drip system as soon as possible to increase production even further.
She said farmers also needed a market for some of their products like garlic.
Bulilima Rural District Chief Executive, Mr. John Brown Ncube, said the irrigation scheme is working well and is expected to be commissioned soon.
“An NGO, Cesvi Zimbabwe, has partnered with farmers to maximize production.
“The main objective of the project was to ensure that irrigation is commercialized and fully utilized.
“We will also use commercial or private farmers who will work with local farmers to ensure maximum production,” he said.
Mr. Ncube said such partnerships are what communities need to achieve development and make full use of resources in their areas.