ELIKANAH Muleya (53) has a 0,4 hectare plot at Tongwe Irrigation Scheme, some 40km north-west of Beitbridge town.
BY OWN CORRESPONDENT
It draws water by gravitation from Tongwe Dam, a man-made oasis in the middle of a dry area.
Along with 74 other plot-holders, Muleya, who is chairman of the group, shares the 27,1 hectare scheme restricted from growth by the surrounding terrain.
Their families have been here since the establishment of the scheme pegged to draw water from the dam built for livestock in 1929.
Stop-start hand-to-mouth cropping, otherwise called subsistence farming, has been their way of life given the agro-ecological region five rainfall pattern of their home area.
At times, the dam dries up, at other times, it breaches to heavy floods, depending on what climatic conditions dictate. For them, farming has never been productive, but just a tradition without profit.
“In the recent past, World Vision helped us rehabilitate our plots which had been destroyed by floods,” Muleya, surrounded by a group of other enthusiastic plot-holders, said in an interview with the NewsDay.
“It has not been smooth sailing. We have had periods of drought. Siltation worries us,” he said on the sidelines of a field day organised by Seed Co to educate plot-holders, reward the excelling, but more so, market their produce.
Lately, the 75 farmers have more smiles than frowns and more positives than negatives following the introduction of contract cash crop farming.
Brought ashore by a consortium of organisations namely the International Rescue Committee (IRC) Cesvi, CIMMYT, Bio-Hub Trust and Matopos Research Institute (MRI), the concept is, in its nursery stage, certain to change the lives of 90 000 people in 20 000 households in the two districts.
It brings to an end years of futile unsustainable investment by non-governmental organisations whose successful projects in the agriculture sector of the countryside are few and far apart.
The organisations are now implementing a resilience building project named Programme for Growth and Resilience (Progress).
In brief, to have sustainability of agro-based rural projects by villagers, the consortium pairs them with consumptive companies for whom they grow crops for a fee.
“It means as you grow your crops, they have been already bought and it’s up to you to increase your production to make more money,” a Seed Co official told close to 200 farmers drawn from five irrigation schemes in Beitbridge.
Seed Co is one of the first companies to be paired to farmers in Beitbridge.
Pilot contract farming with Seed Co, a seed house, is underway in 19 and 14 wards of Nyanga and Beitbridge districts respectively for the next three years during which IRC will be the consortium’s lead agency.
Experts working with Agritex will be deployed to work on exploring more ways to have project sustainability when farmers are weaned.
Their document states the consortium will build absorptive, adaptive and transformative capacities of communities in helping them access and manage finance through savings groups and facilitation of links with micro-finance institutions (MFIs), banks and other credit facilities.
Farmers will also get technology and innovation assistance designed for increasing productivity and diversification of livelihoods opportunities, including the adoption of mechanisation, a greater use of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) improved drought management strategies, improved herd resilience and other activities.
The project will promote mechanised conservation farming through the two-wheel tractors being promoted by CIMMYT.
The pilot project will also assist in sourcing infrastructure and marketing of products to increase production and income for beneficiary households.
This will be achieved through improved irrigation infrastructure, strengthened market linkages, the plan of action read.
The consortium will also embark on creation of farmer groups and associations for easier and collective farmer training, and development of partnerships with private sector including contract farming arrangements where possible.
It also seeks to have gender equality to increase women’s decision making and participation in household consumption decisions hoped to be achieved by creation of gender discussion groups, facilitation, training of local leaders, and semi-annual gender reviews to identify opportunities to address gaps in gender equality.
Lastly, they will equip farmers in disaster risk reduction to improve governance and accountability structures, while contributing to preparedness.
“It will improve capacity for risk management and resilience planning, establish ‘resilience platforms’ at community level, pilot a community resilience scorecard to hold local leadership accountable, and improve community natural resource management,” the document read.
In Beitbridge, the project has already been successful in Shashi and River Ranch Irrigation Schemes where Seed Co assisted-farmers made $54 000 from their 30-hectare plots put under sugar beans in 2016.
“In 2017 the farmers increased their hectarage to 70 and it has been noted that this model did well and community lives have improved,” Seed Co manager Charles Munyoro, who was the guest of honour at the Tongwe field day, said.
“This year the number of schemes in Beitbridge has increased from two to five and two others in Mwenezi. This will be a total of 155 hectares with a potential of 300 tonnes with an estimated value of $500 000 net,” he said.
Munyoro, whose company provided seed, fertiliser and experts, attributed the farmers’ success to the partnership they have with his organisation and the Progress concept.
He urged farmers to go on all year cropping applying expert rotational methods.
District Agritex officer Masauso Mawocha advised farmers to always seek advice from government extension workers.
“Our service is free, that is what the government has deployed us to do,” he said.
Beitbridge Rural District Council engineer Latani Singo agreed that Tongwe Dam’s catchment area of has been hit hard by unabated deforestation.
“It is what we urge villagers to guard against, the dam’s life is under threat,” he told the plot holders.
Villagers who excelled won implements like wheelbarrows, crop spray guns during the function attended by Agritex extension workers from Beitbridge and Mwenezi, representatives of ZB Bank and agents of funeral houses who took advantage of the gathering to market their products.
As the day progressed, it became increasingly clear that rural life is set to change for better if partnerships and synergies between industry and rural communities are created.
Muleya and his fellow plot holders at Tongwe would have, like the other 20 000 households in Nyanga and Beitbridge, found reason to explore rural irrigation farming.