In an effort to embrace climate smart agriculture initiatives in the semi-arid areas of the country, the Smallholder Irrigation Revitalisation Programme has embarked on hydrogel trials in the four provinces of Masvingo, Manicaland, Midlands and Matabeleland South.
The Chief Director for Agricultural Advisory and Rural Development Services in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development, Professor Obert Jiri said the intervention was expected to revolutionarise the agricultural production systems. “Through these hydrogel trials and demonstrations which we will carry out in the provinces, we want to ground-truth the claims of science. Those who know science know that it does not lie as it relies on facts only, which can be replicated. This is very important in our line of work to make sure that we prove facts. As extension agents, it is important to speak from an informed position where we have proven what we preach. Even if someone comes to discredit this, you can defend the technology because you have evidence that it works”, he said.
He added “We want these trials to be mainstreamed into the Intwasa/Pfumvudza concept in the greater scheme areas of the irrigation schemes under SIRP. We cannot distribute this technology to the millions of smallholder farmers in the country without first carrying out trials. We hope that after these trials we will be in a position to make recommendations for the adoption of the hydrogel technology by the government.”
Noting the expected benefits of the new technology, Professor Jiri said, “We have been told that hydrogel will increase the yield by 40%, reduce the irrigation water cycle and reduce water usage. Those are facts that we need you to prove. We want you to document your findings, wherever you are and this is where as specialists, you prove your prowess by documenting the findings from the trials, analyzing them and coming up with your own write ups. When you aggregate your date and findings like what the agronomists often do, you can have your multi-locational research based on data which cannot be disputed by anyone. Those articles are publishable and that is where you can grow your academic and research footprint. This is where it starts.”
Hydrogel technology is a gel that is spread in the field to conserve moisture in drought prone areas. Hydrogel trials have previously been carried out in countries such as India. Trials are expected to be carried out in SIRP provinces as well as other provinces that are not under the project.
78 officers and other stakeholders recently received training under SIRP with assistance of a private company, Artagro and the Department of Research and Specialist Services. Extension officers will establish the plots for trials in fields belonging to selected lead farmers.