The irrigation potential of the Limpopo basin within Zimbabwe is estimated at 10 900 ha (FAO 2004). Of this area, approximately 36 % are currently under smallholder irrigation, large-scale commercial farming, and under the Agricultural Rural Development Authority (ARDA). The area under smallholder irrigation is 1 550 ha using various technologies. The table below outlines the irrigation technologies used in the basin.

Technologies used in major smallholder irrigation schemes in the Limpopo basin in Zimbabwe.
Technology Area (ha) Number of Farmers
Dam and surface irrigation 1005 3 291
Sand abstraction and surface irrigation 323 947
Borehole and sprinkler irrigation 23 60
Borehole and surface irrigation 52 150
Sand abstraction and canals 42 98
TOTAL 1445 4 546

Source: adapted from FAO 2004

Plot sizes range from 0.1 to 0.5 ha/household from the older to new schemes, respectively (FAO 2004). Irrigation management committees which are elected every two years run the smallholder schemes.

There has been widespread introduction of low cost drip irrigation kits in the communal lands (Love et al. 2005).There are various sized irrigation schemes throughout the Zimbabwean portion of the Limpopo basin. Rock-rainwatering harvesting is prevalent and has much potential in the uppermost Thuli, Ntshabezi, and Mzingwane rivers. A farmer in the Diana’s Pool area won a prize for his system of rock-rainwater harvesting. There is large private irrigation scheme at Mwenezana by Triangle Sugar Ltd.

Irrigation water supplied from Silalabuhwa Dam, Zimbabwe. Source: Schaefer 2010


Farming God's Way

GURUVE, Zimbabwe, Apr 2, 2010 (IPS) - Mbuya Erica Chirimanyemba is a marvel among women, and men! Watching her digging holes in dry ground earlier this year, her neighbours thought the old lady had gone berserk. But 60-year-old Chirimanyemba was putting an alternative farming technique into practice.

And it has paid off so well her husband - who fled the district, defeated by perennial drought eight years ago - has come back home to see the wonders she is working on her farm.

"All along we have been getting it wrong, but now we are farming God's way, and things are working well for us," said the energetic 60-year-old.

Chirimanyemba is one of 10,000 small scale farmers in Guruve - an arid district in Zimbabwe's Mashonaland Central Province - who has adopted conservation farming methods.

Old Dogs, Older Tricks

"Even in the past, this is how our parents used to farm before they started using draught power. The harvests were always very good then because this is God's way of farming. No matter how many cattle I have, I will never ever use draught power again. I now know the secret of productive farming," said Chirimanyemba.

The Sustainable Agriculture Trust (SAT) introduced Chirimanyemba to conservation agriculture in 2007. SAT is facilitating the adoption of conservation agriculture in Guruve, with support from the Food Agriculture Organisation under the EU's Global Food Facility, established in response to the food security crisis that developed in 2008.

Conservation farming involves planting crops in small basins or holes, which minimises tillage. In addition to reducing disturbance of the soil structure, the practice also saves time, energy and money as farmers without cattle or tractors of their own do not have to hire tillage. Other techniques include mulching, and judicious mixing and rotation of crops.

During the dry season, Chirimanyemba dug thousands of small holes and packed them with fertilizer. When the rains came, she was poised to plant immediately while neighbours relying on conventional approach to plowing to prepare their fields scrambled to hire draught power and get seeds into the ground.

Support for Farmers

In the 2009/2010 farming season, about 176,000 smallholder farmers nationwide received seed and fertilizer from the EU Food Facility. In February, the EU announced an additional $13 million of support, which will see 80,000 more families benefiting.

As small and large scale farmers prepare to harvest the maize crop in Zimbabwe, it appears yields are much higher for those farmers who use conservation agriculture than those relying on conventional tillage methods.

Ian Henderson, a former commercial farmer now working as an agricultural consultant, said he expected an average yield of 1.5 tonnes per hectare for the 10,000 conservation farmers in the district. This, he said, would ensure that the district has enough food reserves for the next 12 months.

In contrast, this growing season for farmers who used conventional methods will be a disaster. Crops that were planted late wilted before reaching fertilisation stage.

"Those who are not in the programme (of conservation farming) planted late, as they had to wait for the rains in order for them to start preparing their land. By the time they finished planting, our crops were already at knee height," said Judas Phiri, district supervisor for SAT.

"From the look of things," Henderson said," the yields are not that good for those farmers who use conventional tillage, as they had to wait for the first rains before they could prepare their land and plant. For each day a farmer delays to plant after the first rains, you lose 120 kg per hectare. That is a lot, as it translates to more than one tonne in just one week."

Adapting to Conditions

Climate change is creating a nightmare for those who rely on conventional methods. The head of Mavhunga village, Teddy Chihoko, said farmers were having difficulty planning ahead.

"These days it is difficult to tell when the rains will start," said Chihoko. "This conservation agriculture programme has proven to be very useful in helping farmers prepare on time. It has helped us a lot to develop as a community and to fight poverty."

After two successful harvests using the conservation techniques, Mbuya Chirimanyemba is the talk of the village. She was even named the best farmer in Guruve district for the 2009/2010 cropping season.

Chirimanyemba's husband, Lameck, said the family’s adoption of conservation farming has bettered their social standing.

"People always have a better perception of you if they know you have food, than when you are starving. This type of farming has really helped us," said Lameck. Chirimanyemba's grandson, who had to drop out of school due to unpaid fees, has resumed his education.

"My grandson has also gone back to school. Things are working for me now. In the 2008/2009 farming season, I got 35 bags. This time I am expecting not less than 50 bags. I have no doubt this year I will get my biggest harvest ever," said Chirimanyemba.

Source: Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS) - Ephraim Nsingo 2010a

Mzingwane catchment Irrigation Schemes. Source: Department of Irrigation 2010


Current ongoing initiatives.

LIMCOM's current ongoing interventions being undertaken