Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
TUCKED deep in the heart of Bulilima District in the semi-arid Matabeleland South province, Somnene Irrigation Scheme has transformed the lives of more than 20 small holder farmers whose livelihoods have for the past two decades, revolved around irrigation farming.
The irrigation scheme, which was established 36 years ago, draws its water from Mananda Dam, which was constructed in 1967.
Over the years, the irrigation scheme faced collapse due to severe water shortages resulting in poor crop yields. The low crop yields subsequently led to loss of income for the smallholder farmers.
With a total of 23 farmers, each farming on 0,2 hectares, Somnene Irrigation Scheme has proved to be a game changer for the local community. In a report, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) noted that irrigation is among the measures that can improve yields, reduce vulnerability to changing rainfall patterns and enable multiple cropping practices.
Through hard work, commitment and dedication, the farmers at Somnene Irrigation Scheme have transformed the 20-hectare irrigation into a green oasis.
The smallholder farmers, a majority of whom are women, are defining the success farming story as they contribute significantly to food security for the nation in line with the Agriculture and Food System Transformation Strategy (2020-2025) whose national thrust is to see Zimbabwe achieving a US$8,2 billion agriculture economy by 2025.
The strategy, which was launched by President Mnangagwa last year in August is underpinned by growing the economy and ensuring Zimbabwe grows its own food and ensures the majority of rural families move from poverty to affluence.
Ms Angela Nkomo (38) who lost her mother at a young age, is part of the 23 plot holders who joined Somnene Irrigation Scheme and helped revive the farming project, which was on the verge of collapse.
A mother of three, Ms Nkomo said the irrigation scheme has helped her raise her children and siblings following the death of her mother 15 years ago.
A few months ago, she raised more than R20 000 from selling her tomatoes and used part of the money to buy goats and pay school fees for her siblings and children.
“I grew up in Somnene and the irrigation scheme has always been our source of livelihood for many years.
Our lives revolve around farming and through this irrigation scheme I have managed to raise my siblings following the death of my mother when I was 20 years old,” she said.
“In September, I harvested tomatoes and raised more than R20 000. Part of that money went towards paying school fees for my children and siblings and buying goats.”
Despite water challenges due to constant breakdown of water pumps and constant power cuts, Ms Nkomo said they continue to register success.
Another farmer, Ms Kilibetsi Moyo (34) is taking care of her four children and four orphans.
“I started farming at Somnene Irrigation Scheme in 2015 and I am looking after eight children who include four orphans. It has helped me because I am now able to take care of my children and pay their school fees through the proceeds from farming,” she said.
Ms Moyo said she has eight plots where she grows sugar beans, maize, groundnuts, sweet potatoes and vegetables.
“I grow sugar beans between January and February and harvest in May. After that, I then plant hybrid tomatoes and in August I plant maize and start harvesting part of the yields in December. We also grow sweet potatoes,” she said.
Ms Moyo said farmers have already started selling green mealies. She said when they harvest in April, she hopes to deliver substantial quantities to GMB.
Mrs Nobukhosi Ncube (68) planted maize, groundnuts and other small grain varieties and they gave her better yields.
The irrigation scheme farmers recently partnered with an emerging agriculture enterprise, Imbewu Family Agro-Company which is run by three Bulawayo-based farmers led by Umzingwane farmer, Mr Prosper Chikwara, one the country’s celebrated young farmers.
Mr Chikwara was last year honoured by the Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) during its annual congress in Gweru when he won the Best Young Farmer of the Year Award.
He received seed, chemicals, fertiliser, a trophy and certificate, which was accompanied by a prize money of $25 000.
Imbewu is grounded on promoting farming in the dry Matabeleland region through empowering women in their communities and aims to encourage self-sufficiency in the wake of Covid-19 and the effects of climate change.
The company supplied the farmers with a rare variety of tomato seedlings.
According to a recent United Nations report, agriculture sector is the single largest employer in the world, sustaining the livelihood of 40 percent of the population, many of whom live in poverty.
Angela Nkomo and Kilibetsi Moyo harvest their groundnuts which are ready for the market at Somnene Irrigation Scheme in Bulilima District, Matabeleland South
Increasing productivity in the agriculture sector is widely recognised as one of the most effective ways to fight poverty and stimulate socio-economic development.
Last week President Mnangagwa launched the Presidential Rural Development Scheme at Sekusile-Makorokoro nutrition garden in Jinjika Village, Makorokoro area of Mangwe District, Matabeleland South as part of Government’s efforts to turn around the economic fortunes of rural communities.
The scheme is set to benefit more than 1,8 million households as the Second Republic accelerates efforts to alleviate poverty among the rural folks in line with the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1).
Under the Presidential Rural Development Scheme, Government will drill and equip one borehole in each of the country’s 35 000 villages.
Each village will also be empowered with a nutrition garden with a wide range of fruit trees and sweet potato vines being distributed to households. – @mashnets.
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