Hope amid adversity- climate proofing agriculture cushions smallholder farmers against the devastating El Nino induced drought in Zimbabwe

SIRP - Smallholder Irrigation Revitalisation Programme > Impact > Hope amid adversity- climate proofing agriculture cushions smallholder farmers against the devastating El Nino induced drought in Zimbabwe

Hope amid adversity- climate proofing agriculture cushions smallholder farmers against the devastating El Nino induced drought in Zimbabwe

  • Posted by: Precious Nkomo
teta banga

A few kilometres before the recently rehabilitated Banga Irrigation Scheme in Masvingo, Mr George Mawenino , a lead farmer in the dryland cuts a forlorn figure as he looks at his wilting maize crop. He and his children have not tasted green mealies this year, if fact they have given up on their crop, which is still at knee height in the month of March with no rains in sight. Even if the rains were to come, Mr Mawenino and millions of other farmers who rely on rain fed agriculture in Zimbabwe are unlikely to salvage anything from their fields. Crops cultivated by dryland farmers in most parts of the country have reached permanent wilting stage. A few farmers with other sources of income, will resort to buying food from the retail shops, where prices are likely to increase as the market responds to the scarcity of maize, the staple cereal in the country. Meanwhile, families with no other source of income except for smallholder agriculture and who form the majority of the population in Zimbabwe, await to receive grain handouts from government and other development agencies.

It is however, a different story for Mr Luckymore Mokoena of Cashel Valley Irrigation Scheme in Manicaland Province, which is under rehabilitation. Parts of the scheme, have been completed by the government under the Smallholder Irrigation Revitalisation Programe (SIRP) and farmers are already producing various crops. Mr Mokoena is one of the 900 beneficiaries in the 600 hectare scheme, one of the 60 irrigation schemes with a total hectarage of 5 202 hectares being rehabilitated by the Smallholder Irrigation Revitalization Programme (SIRP), across the four provinces of Matabeleland South, Manicaland, Masvingo and Midlands being rehabilitated under SIRP.
The goal of the project is to ensure that rural households achieve food and nutrition security and are resilient to climate change effects and economic shocks. As of December 31, 2023, the programme had completed rehabilitating 3857 hectares across the four beneficiary provinces bringing relief to farmers such as Mr Mokoena. Co-financed by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the OPEC Fund for International Development and the Government of Zimbabwe, the Smallholder Irrigation Revitalisation Programme aims to reach out to 8 161 beneficiaries in irrigation schemes and additional 19 339 others in the adjacent rain- fed areas. The programme’ s interventions were in the drought prone provinces of Manicaland, Midlands, Masvingo and Matabeleland South.

Mr Mokoena said the rehabilitation of the scheme had given him and his family new hope. During the 2022-2023 summer season, the family grew maize on their 0.4 hectare plot and harvested 1 tonne. Rehabilitation of the scheme started at the end of 2023, and this year, the family has a thriving maize and NUA 45 bean crop and expects to harvest 3 tonnes. He said, “The rehabilitation of this irrigation scheme is very important for us as we will no longer lose our crops due to moisture stress. At the moment our crop is doing very well as we can irrigate anytime we wish. Compared to the greater scheme area, our crops are better as we have access to irrigation all year round. We expect a better yield than last year where we harvested one tonne from the plot.” He said his family was food secure and planned to sell surplus maize to the Grain Marketing Board, the country’s strategic grain reserve and the local market. They are part of farmers that are already contributing to food security at household, community and national level.
Mr Aaron Teta is a farmer at Banga Irrigation Scheme in Masvingo Province of Zimbabwe. Their irrigation scheme which was rehabilitated by SIRP in 2021 was voted the best irrigation scheme in the country, beating 450 other schemes. He said, “Our district has received minimal rains as compared to other years. It seems many farmers in the dryland will harvest very little or nothing. However, the situation is a bit better for us here in the irrigation scheme where we expect better yields which will enable us to feed our families and sell the surplus to the Grain Marketing Board . The yields may not be the same as other years because the water levels at the dam have been very low, so we had to ration the water carefully to ensure that it lasts us longer.

We are grateful for the rehabilitation that took place here which changed the irrigation system from canals to the piped surface system which conserves water. The rehabilitation also addressed leakages along the conveyance system from the night storage dam to the fields. In a year like this one , where we have received very little rains, the rehabilitation has enabled us to conserve the little water that is in the dam, which will allow us to plant another crop. We expect the water to last until November, when the first rains will start falling. Since the rehabilitation, we have managed to have three crop cycles every year. As farmers, we are doing well after the rehabilitation as some farmers have managed to buy cattle, scotch carts, build brick and asbestos houses as well as buying household property”. The scheme has recently bought a grinding mill and has embarked on a chicken project to augment their income.
For Mrs Faith Tshuma-Mupereki, a widow at Banga, the irrigation has enabled her to fend for her family. She said she was able to grow enough food for her family after the rehabilitation. While the rains have been poor, she said, “Compared to other farmers in the dryland, our crops are much better and we are food secure. We hope that we will be able to sell some of our grain to the community as well as selling to the national grain reserve. We sell our green mealies to customers from other towns such as Chiredzi, Beitbridge, Harare, Masvingo and Bulawayo. We currently employ some of the community members on a temporary basis so that they assist with the harvesting while earning money to sustain their families.”

It is however, not all gloom for farmers in the dryland such as Mr Samson Gonouya a beneficiary of the SIRP programme in the dryland. Mr Gonouya of Mandima Village in Cashel Valley, embraced climate smart initiatives that were introduced by SIRP. One of these was conservation farming popularly known as Pfumvudza while growing traditional grains. He and his wife cultivated sorghum, a drought tolerant crop which has already tasseled. He also cultivated a portion of cow peas which his family added to their diet while they waited for the sorghum to mature.
teta banga
Zimbabwe has received subdued rains in the 2023-2023 season. A February 2024 country brief by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations indicated that the western and southern parts of the country had received late and sporadic rainfall, which had subsequently delayed planting with farmers in some areas planting in January. These affected areas had experienced long dry spells which lasted up to 85 days in some cases. The northern parts of the country which are often more productive were also affected and this was expected to significantly reduce the crop yields, as well as affecting pastures in the country. The same report estimated that at least 3.5 million households would be food insecure and the situation was expected to persist for the whole of 2024 owing to reduced agricultural yields which would limit household incomes and were expected to push up food prices due to the scarcity of food items on the market. A World Food Programme country brief for January 2024 indicated that the organization was closely monitoring the development of the El Nino phenomenon which had seen the country witnessing delayed onset of rainfall, prolonged dry spells and inadequate spatial distribution of rainfall.

In a post-cabinet media briefing on the 5th of Match 2024, the Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services , Dr Jenfan Muswere announced, that government had commenced distribution of food relief to ensure that communities had enough food for the duration of the El Nino induced drought period. He added that government had reached out to 247 576 households and expected to accelerate its efforts under the Food Deficit Mitigation Programme. Statistics gleaned from the Zimbabwe Livelihoods Assessment Committee (Zim LAC) indicated that 2 715 717 people would be food insecure between January and March 2024. However, beyond March, the number was expected to remain the same as March marks the end of the rainy season. Additionally, Dr Muswere announced that government was mobilizing funds to ensure that it achieves its target of 350 000 hectares under irrigation.

Author: Precious Nkomo

Leave a Reply