Government seeks partnerships for irrigation development

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WITH climate change problems showing no signs of abating, Government is seeking to establish partnerships to develop irrigation infrastructure and fully utilise the country’s water bodies whose underutilisation is compromising efforts to boost food security.

This comes as the country has more than 9 000 dams that are considered as complete with most of them regarded as idle, as their water is not being utilised owing to the unavailability of the prerequisite irrigation infrastructure.

In an interview, Department of Irrigation Development director, Engineer Bezel Chitsungo revealed that despite the fact that the country had skilled personnel for dam development, most of the water bodies were not fully utilised for irrigation.

“The country has the potential to irrigate up to two million hectares of land if all existing dams and those under construction are fully utilised. We are also exploring transboundary water resources such as the Zambezi River in the north and Limpopo River in the south and unlocking the potential of the Pfungwe water system and the groundwater resources, which are regarded as unexploited. This could contribute to expanding the irrigated land area,” said Eng Chitsungo.

Government has set its sights on increasing the area under irrigation by partnering with the private sector, as irrigation development is capital intensive.

Eng Chitsungo added that only 220 000 hectares were equipped with irrigations infrastructure out of the potential two million hectares. Out of the 220 000ha equipped with irrigation infrastructure, 203 000ha are actively working, which points towards a deficit of 20 000ha whose equipment requires attention.

The National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1) programming targets and the Agricultural and Food Systems Transformation Strategy have set targets of increasing the area under irrigation to 350 000ha from the current 203 000 by the year 2025.

Tugwi Mukosi, Manyuchi and Mazvikadeyi dams are among the dams not being fully utilised yet they could contribute 40 000, 5 000 and 7 000 hectares of land under irrigation separately.

“The reasons behind the underutilisation of these dams is that irrigation is capital intensive, as a lot of resources are needed to finance irrigation development. Some of the irrigation projects require us to clear land for agriculture, levelling the land and construction of roads in areas that have the potential to be irrigated within the district of the dam,” he said.

In order to meet the ambitious targets, the Government has introduced a deliberate policy strategy under the Agricultural and Food Systems Transformation Strategy, which ropes in the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) in accelerating irrigation development.

Through this, the Government seeks to adopt a comprehensive approach to irrigation development as it moves to attain the target of 350 000 hectares by partnering with the private sector.

“The Government acknowledges that achieving the set target by 2025 comes with a significant financial burden by recognising these limitations. The private sector has been invited to come on board to help mobilise resources for irrigation development on a win-win situation where farmers on one end will contribute to secure the resources that are required and the Government provides the guarantees for the facilities while banks will come in to administer the loan on behalf of the Government.

“In this partnership the Government is offering to guarantee some of the facilities to the private sector. The Irrigation Development Alliance was also developed and created for risk sharing in which the Government will take some of the risk with farmers taking up 20 percent of the risks, private sector with a minimum of five percent while banks 50 percent risks,” Eng Chistungo explained.

The Government aims to coordinate efforts and mobilise finances for irrigation development including accelerated construction of irrigation infrastructure and it is believed that irrigation development not only ensures water availability for farmers’ investments in agriculture and livestock activities but also stimulate various industries involved in the production of agricultural equipment.

“The Government believes that achieving this target will ensure food self-sufficiency and position the country as a net exporter of grains. Moreover, irrigation development is seen as essential for mitigating the effects of climate change and ensuring crop production continuity especially during unpredictable rainfall patterns and seasonal dry spells,” he said. – Herald