Thupeyo Muleya, Beitbridge Bureau
Several farmers here have embraced drip irrigation to alleviate the effects of water shortages and climate change.
Drip irrigation is a type of micro-irrigation system that has the potential to save water and nutrients by allowing water to drip slowly to the roots of plants, either from above or below the soil surface.
Under this type of irrigation method, water is placed directly into the root zone of plant to minimise evaporation.
In previous years, farmers used canals, sprinklers, or flood irrigation to water crops.
However, they have since raised the red flag over depleting water sources for irrigation farming and livestock production, induced by climate change.
Mr Knowledge Sibanda of Makakavhule Village (Ward 6) said he draws water through sand abstraction from Umzingwane River to irrigate his 8 hectare plot.
The plot has tomatoes, onions, green pepper and cabbages.
“Drip irrigation is the best method we are using to get results with the little water available considering that we are in the midst of a devastating drought,” he said.
Mr Sibanda said the horticulture project had reduced imports of vegetables to Beitbridge from other towns and South Africa.
He said he is working on expanding the project to 12 hectares to produce more for the local market, especially schools.
Mr Energy Muzamani of Goda (Ward 6) said he was using water from a communal borehole to turn around the lives of many people in Beitbridge East who get fresh vegetables for resale.
He has been growing tomatoes, green pepper and cabbages on his three-hectare plot since 2016 with the aid of drip irrigation.
“This horticulture project is doing well though we have challenges with irrigation water and am looking for resources or a partner to drill two boreholes.
“The water table is dwindling, but we are also looking at another place to expand the horticulture project powered by solar or diesel pumps.
“We are blessed with good soils and we need to make the most out of it by employing the most effective ways of saving water, but with more production,” he said.
Mr Muzamani said he was working on expanding his field to seven hectares.
This, he said, will help increase his output and employ more people, especially women and youths.
He said currently he employed four fulltime workers and more were being hired on part-time depending on the workload.
“Beitbridge is a dry area where crops do well under irrigation farming, hence the need to maximise on the little water we are having. Generally, drip irrigation saves water compared to flood or using sprinklers or other types of irrigation,” said Mr Muzamani.
He said it was important for farmers to look at the varieties to plant in their fields which are conducive to climate conditions around Beitbridge.
The farmer said they were looking at expanding their market share from Beitbridge to the rest of Matabeleland South and the country.
Ms Raina Hlongwane of Goda area said the introduction of drip irrigation had helped most women to have their own self-sustaining project where they can raise funds to fend for their children.
“We are able raise at least R3 000 daily from horticulture products sales. This is better than folding hands.
“The main challenge remains water, but we believe if we get more rains, we can produce more,” she said.
A farm manager at the 60-hectare Royal Cooper Estate, Mr Samuel Karonga, said using drip irrigation helps control weeds.
“It also helps control weeds because we only water the places where we have plants. In essence, we have to conserve the little water we have, considering that we are in an area where dryland farming is a challenge due to our climatic conditions,” he said.
He said considering the glaring effects of climate change, it was important for farmers in the district to embrace drip irrigation, which also maximises production with less labour.
According to agriculture experts, Beitbridge requires an average of 400mm of rain water for a successful farming season, but most areas have in the last season received less than 80mm.