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A life-giving greenbelt in Matabeleland South

by Staff reporter
25 Feb 2024 at 07:07hrs | Views
AMID the anxiety and disillusionment occasioned by projections of below-normal rains in the 2023-2024 summer cropping season due to the El Niño weather phenomenon, some farmers opted not to plant any food crops.

However, the success of an irrigation scheme in Matabeleland South is showing that it is not all doom and gloom.

Farmers at Silalatshani Irrigation Scheme are presently harvesting some of their maize and selling green mealies from their second crop.

Nestled in the midst of silver bushes and acacia shrubs, the irrigation scheme draws water from Silalabhuwa Dam.

The scheme, which sits on 468 hectares, is an "oasis in a desert", as it is located in natural region 5, commonly hit by droughts and extreme temperatures.

First started 56 years ago, the irrigation scheme has become the lifeblood of the local community, with close to 1 000 families benefitting from it.

Crops are grown throughout the year, with the produce sold in Filabusi, Gwanda and Bulawayo.

Mr Absalom Tshuma, who is in his 70s, said he has been living off the irrigation scheme for decades.

"It was from this irrigation scheme that I saw myself affording school fees for my children, who are now adults. I have also witnessed many of my colleagues sending their children to universities with money they get from selling various crops produced here," said Mr Tshuma.

Crop production at Silalatshani, he said, was an all-year-round activity.

"Green mealies are our cash cow. We grow them throughout the year," he said.

Mrs Spiwe Ndhlovu, whose role is to inspect and ensure that canals for the flooding irrigation are clean, said the scheme has transformed her life.

"Apart from enforcing the cleaning and maintenance of canals by members, I also grow sugar beans. I sell some of the produce at Silalatshani Business Centre and use some for home consumption," she said.

Although water levels in the dam are not at their best, she said the irrigation system is still running well and there is hope for a bumper harvest, despite the erratic rains.

The scheme boasts 13 different crops, including garlic, vegetables, sugar beans, tomatoes and maize.

Farmers have planted 250 hectares (ha) of sugar beans (since February 1), while green mealies are sitting on close to 100ha.

Last year, farmers at the scheme delivered 785 tonnes of grain to the Grain Marketing Board, which was their highest-ever maize output. Recently, the Silalatshani Irrigation Scheme hosted the Fisheries and Aquaculture Resources Department (FARD), which assisted farmers to rehabilitate three fishponds that had been abandoned.

Under the Presidential Fisheries Scheme, the Government is on an accelerated aquaculture drive, with irrigation business units (IBUs) considered complete if they have at least one fishpond for fish production.

For Silalatshani, the Government handed over 5 000 sexed tilapia (bream) fingerlings and feed to kick-start the project.

Mr Jabulani Moyo, a local farmer and secretary of the scheme, said the fish project will offer farmers an alternative income stream.

"We would like to thank the Government for giving us a chance to try our luck in fish farming.

"It is known that with the temperatures we experience here, fish production is ideal. This is offering us another opportunity to improve our nutrition with protein-rich meals while creating new cash inflows away from crops," said Mr Moyo.

Local communities have since received training on sustainable exploitation of the fish.

Dam committees have been set up around the water body to cultivate a sense of ownership among community members.

Infrastructure rehabilitation

By 2000, infrastructure at the scheme had deteriorated, while by 2016, only a small portion was left under production.

However, in November 2017, the Government launched the Smallholder Irrigation Revitalisation Programme, which saw Silalatshani and other irrigation schemes countrywide getting a shot in the arm.

Crucially, since then, Silalatshani has contributed to rural development, in line with the Government's efforts to industrialise rural areas by promoting economic activity.

The model is expected to be replicated in other parts of the country in order to help communities to extricate themselves from poverty.

Officially relaunching the fish project, FARD director Mr Milton Makumbe said IBUs are key to food and nutrition security within rural communities.

"IBUs are a necessity for communities living around water bodies. As you produce your starch from your cereals, you will also need protein-rich food. This is where fish come in," he said.

"What we urge these farmers to do is ensure that they grasp the business principles being taught to them by our extension officers so that the project will not experience a natural death. We want continuity."

Source - The Sunday Mail