Government has lined up several irrigation infrastructure projects this year as part of efforts to boost crop production and achieve food security.
In light of the devastating effects of climate change causing recurrent droughts, irrigation is seen a viable option to enhance farm yields.
Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube acknowledged the impacts of climate change on agriculture, which are reducing crop and livestock production. As such, creating scope for channelling resources towards resilience and productivity becomes critical.
The Agriculture and Food Systems Transformation Strategy and the Agriculture Recovery Plan provide a roadmap and strategic thrust for agriculture for the period to 2030, focusing on increasing agricultural output to US$8,2 billion by 2025 and contribute 20 percent to the gross domestic product, from the current 12 percent.
“Recent droughts have reinforced the importance of maximising usage of existing water bodies, soil and climate conditions towards increased agriculture productivity and output.
“Despite the huge potential of irrigation, our interventions to date have failed to leverage on this potential,” said Minister Ncube in the 2021 Zimbabwe Infrastructure Investment Programme.
Out of the two million hectares that can be developed from existing water bodies, only 242 000 hectares are developed and equipped with irrigation infrastructure, with 175 000 hectares currently being functional.
But the Irrigation Rehabilitation and Development Plan seeks to increase area under irrigation and crop production from the current 242 000 hectares to 350 000 hectares by 2025.
According to the plan, the Government will spearhead the rehabilitation and revitalisation of 450 irrigation schemes in communal areas, including overhaul of the business model for such schemes in order to ensure viability and sustainability. This should help small holder communal farmers treat agriculture as business in order to maximise from their produce for both food security at household level and profitability.
The plan also targets rehabilitation of 45 000 hectares on A1 and A2 farms as well as capacitation through access to various financial and equipment facilities and markets, while development of 120 000 hectares of new irrigation infrastructure in marginal areas is also on cards.
Minister Ncube also indicated the success of these initiatives hinges on sustainable and efficient use of existing water bodies, adoption of modern irrigation systems as well as creating a conducive regulatory environment that attracts private sector participation in irrigation development and ensure farmers access finance, inputs and markets.
The soon to be launched agriculture Commodities exchange — Zimbabwe Mercantile Exchange (ZMX) and Warehousing Receipt System (WRS) also seeks to address some of the challenges farmers face in accessing funding for retooling and mechanisation as well as bottlenecks in marketing their produce.
This system, experts say, will improve smallholder farmers’ access to finance to boost productivity, enhance transparency and information system and improve farmer livelihoods through transparent price discovery as well as enhanced market access by encouraging competition along the agriculture value chain.
Treasury has indicated the ZMX, whose launch is scheduled during the first quarter of this year, will allow farmers to “benefit from a more transparent system as it will address agriculture marketing problems, which undermine market access and financial viability of farmers.”
This will also provide farmers, buyers and retailers direct access to one another, and close the existing arbitrage gaps that are caused by middlemen while also stimulating efficient price discovery.