The Government expects the revamped irrigation systems in the country to anchor food production and ensure household food security this season in the wake of the poor rains due to the El Nino phenomenon, which has crippled the 2023-2024 summer cropping season.
The El Nino effect has resulted in the late start to the cropping season with irregular patterns of heavy rains and dry spells having adversely affected farmers.
While the outlook generally remains hopeful with most crops said to be in a good state in all provinces, the Government says irrigation schemes have begun harvesting with indications that significant grain will be added to the strategic grain reserves.
As a result, Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Deputy Minister Davis Marapira has allayed fears of grain shortages, saying there was no need for the public to panic in the face of El Nino threats.
In an interview during the ground-breaking ceremony for the fisheries project at Matopos Research Institute in Matabeleland South last week, the Deputy Minister said the irrigation schemes that have started harvesting will feed into the strategic grain reserves, thereby guaranteeing national food security.
“We have received reasonable rains in the last 40 days. In some areas because of some rains we received, we are no longer panicking about the El Nino as much as we were doing in the past four months,” he said.
“That means we are going to harvest something. People are starting to harvest now from all irrigated places. Where is the maize going? It is going to improve our food security.”
Deputy Minister Marapira dismissed reports that the country is only left with four months of grain supply.
“I have heard from the media people saying we are left with maize to last for only four months, I don’t know where they are getting that information,” he said.
“For people to come out with uncalculated figures and say we are only left with four months, did they start counting the grains we are harvesting now and what we have in our irrigation schemes and incorporate them?
“Wait for the Government through the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development to give correct information rather than formulating information from your homes.”
According to the 2023/2024 rainfall season forecast, the bulk of Matabeleland North, parts of Midlands covering Gokwe North and South districts, and parts of Matabeleland South province covering Bulilima District are expected to receive below-normal-to-normal rainfall, while normal rainfall with a bias towards below normal rainfall is highly likely for the remaining provinces for the sub-season October-November-December 2023.
This has seen the Government promoting conservative farming techniques, which include increasing land under irrigation, encouraging farmers to do Pfumvudza/Intwasa and encouraging farmers to plant small grains in its quest to reduce the effects of the predicted El Nino.
With many people taking advantage of the Presidential Input Scheme and guidelines from the Government on conservative farming, the Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Dr Anxious Masuka is on record saying Matabeleland alone is moving towards food self-sufficiency as Pfumvudza/Intwasa and irrigation schemes are bearing fruits.
He said this during a recent tour of Matabeleland where he was monitoring progress for the 2023/2024 summer cropping season.
About US$40 million has been invested in rehabilitating 42 irrigation schemes across the country under the Government’s Small Holder Irrigation Revitalisation Programme (SIRP).
The programme is targeting 60 irrigation schemes and works in the remaining projects are set to have been completed by June this year.
The intervention targets to revive production on 5 200 hectares and help boost national food security.
SIRP was launched in November 2017 to assist the revitalisation of irrigation schemes across the country through rehabilitation of infrastructure.
The programme is led by the Government and funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and implemented in four provinces – Matabeleland South, Manicaland, Masvingo, Midlands.
In Matabeleland South, irrigation schemes that have been rehabilitated under SIRP include Sebasa, Guyu, Tshikwalakwala, Makwe, Valley and Silalatshani. Works are underway to revitalise Bambanani Irrigation Scheme, Mankonkoni Irrigation Scheme and Rustlers Gorge Irrigation Scheme.
Added to that, the Second Republic has also rolled out several agricultural schemes meant to transform subsistence agriculture at the household level into commercial agriculture.
Managers have also been deployed to irrigation schemes across the country to maximise production, thereby ensuring food security and nutrition.