The large irrigation scheme for 189 communal farmers growing citrus fruit spearheaded by the Government and development partners, has transformed many rural lives in the semi-arid district of Beitbridge.
The major turning point for the Shashe community was 2011 after the Government and its partners revamped a 200-hectare scheme that was almost collapsing due to high operational costs. The planting of citrus meant that another seven years had to elapse before the first serious citrus harvest was reaped in 2018 but since then the harvest has been growing fast.
Since then, the communal irrigation project has become a model for Beitbridge district.
The 189 communal farmers at the irrigation-driven citrus project are now producing an average of 700 tonnes of oranges each season to supply the Beitbridge Juice Plant run by Schweppes Holdings.
Farmers get between US$0,15 and US$0,19 a kg, giving a total income for the whole season’s crop of between US$105 000 and US$133 000. Next season the estimate is 1000 tonnes and higher quality.
Three schools in Ward 8 including Shashe primary and secondary and Mopani primary are part of the scheme with the schools having an average enrolment of 300 learners.
Citrus production had been a preserve for commercial farmers, but times have changed as more small-scale farmers are stepping in.
Through Cesvi, a development partner, the Government stepped in to help with technical knowledge and capacity building for the plot-holders who are now into serious citrus production and horticulture.
With a view to operating as a business entity, the plot-holders have since established the Shashe Irrigation Scheme Trust led by former Beitbridge Rural District Council chief executive officer Mr Albert Mbedzi.
Cesvi area coordinator for Beitbridge, Mr Munyaradzi Katemaudzanga said they started working with the Shashe community on citrus in 2011.
“The initiative was being funded by the European Commission and other partners. It consisted of the supply of 22 500 young citrus trees,” he said.
“We installed irrigation infrastructure which comprised of three centre pivots for 30ha and one for 2,5ha, all under citrus.
“In addition to that, we drilled seven sand abstraction boreholes in the Shashe River and provided four booster pumps to increase the capacity to irrigate.”
Generators with an output of 45kVA for the pumps and 10kVA for the centre pivots were installed.
The organisation has also helped with building the capacity for the farmers.
Since getting its first harvest around 2018, the Shashe project has attracted a lot of investors.
Shashe irrigation project agronomist Mr Godsman Moyo said: “We are carrying out the citrus project on 66 hectares with the other land being used for wheat, soya beans, and green mealies production.
“Since our first harvest, the plot holders have been getting around 700 tonnes per season which we take to Beitbridge Juicing, which is a ready market.”
Mr Moyo said they are expecting to harvest 1 000 tonnes this year, adding that one of the citrus production giants, Nottingham Estate, had offered to help with grading the fruit before being sold to local and international markets.
Each of the 189 plot holders has 80 citrus trees and they share the proceeds after taking the product to the markets collectively.
Half of the proceeds are kept in a trust account while the remainder is shared among the communal farmers.
“The project has 189 plot holders, among them 99 women, 86 men, and three local schools, whose lives have really changed since we started and sending the product to the market,” said Mr Moyo.
A farmer at the project, Ms Melita Ndou, said she had consistently taken care of her three dependants from the money she gets from citrus farming.
She commended Government for mobilising resources through it partners to revamp the irrigation project.
“Our project is back on track again and we have learned a lot from working with many development partners including Cesvi and Nottingham Estate,” she said.
Mrs Listeo Muleya said many plot holders who had previously abandoned the project were now interested in farming.
She said some villagers started pulling out when they started experiencing endemic operational challenges to do with power supply and irrigation water availability.
More people from around Beitbridge and surrounding districts, she said, were now visiting Shashe to learn more about smart agriculture techniques.
Mrs Silibaziso Dube, a member of the irrigation management committee, said it was pleasing to note that they have moved from subsistence farming to commercial farming.
“Through the help, we are getting on inputs, and market linkages, we are now concentrating on crops of higher market value. This has seen most farmers here upgrading their way of life and even building modern houses,” she said.
Mrs Dube said they were doing contract farming to produce sugar beans for Seed Co and wheat under the Presidential Inputs Scheme.
Agriculture teacher at Shashe Secondary School, Mr Douglas Zhou said they have been harvesting an average of 3 tonnes from their plot at the communal irrigation project. This was also critical in improving the teaching of practical agriculture skills for the 244 pupils.
“Besides monetary incentives to boost operational costs of the school, some of the farm output is enhancing the school feeding scheme thereby cutting down on issues of absenteeism,” said Mr Zhou.
Nottingham Estate general manager, Mr Mark Elliot, said they have been helping the communal farmers with technical support to boost production. They had also facilitated a consultant to carry out a study on the state of affairs at Shashe on how they may produce fruit export markets.
This year, Mr Elliot said, they had offered to help the farmers with the sorting and grading of the oranges so that they may get better returns on the market.
Beitbridge crop specialist Ms Eve Kuza said: “Generally, the citrus project is doing well. The quality and quantity of the products are better than the previous season, where the expected estimated tonnage is 1 000 tonnes to 1 300 tonnes for 92,5 hectares compared to about 700 tonnes from last season. The oranges are also under demonstration for export.”
Ms Kuza said it was pleasing to note that the local rural development council and Nottingham Estate were doing their best to rehabilitate the road linking Shashe and the markets.
“On the other hand, commercial farmers have good quality citrus projects. Estimated yield will be around 1 million x15kg boxes,” said Ms Kuza.
Senior Beitbridge Chief Tshitaudze (David Mbedzi) commended the Government for bringing economic development to Shashe. He said the unity of purpose between traditional leaders, the community, and development agencies had contributed to the area’s success story.
A lot of jobs were being opened up for both special skills and general labour during land preparation and the harvesting seasons.
“As traditional leaders, we are happy that the standard of living for people in that area is gradually improving. In fact, things will never be the same again.
“We are here to provide a link and help the communities to contribute to development matters from the grassroots level,” said Chief Tshitaudze.
The community should work with other players in maximising economic development activities that come with being close to a major water body, he said.