By Pamenus Tuso
The lives of women and girls in rural arid Lapane district in Matebeleland North is set to significantly improve following the United States of America’s injection of a $100,000 grant to the Lupane Women’s Development Trust (Lupane Women) for the setting up of a solar powered irrigation scheme.
The grant which was officially handed over to the women on this October by the United States Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission, Jennifer Savage, will also enable the organisation to build the capacity of its members in governance and marketing.
Lupane women, which has over 4,500 members, works to improve the livelihoods of its members through coordinated enterprises including handicrafts, poultry and vegetable production. Before this timely provision of the grant by the US government through the United States African Development Foundation (USADF), the organisation has been using expensive diesel –driven pumps to irrigate the two hectare piece of land located about three kilometres from the centre along the Lupane / Bulawayo highway.
“The reason why we have opted for the solar energy is because of the high electricity costs. We have realised that there is very limited electricity in the country, yet there is abundant solar power in this region,” said the Trust’s Director, Hildigard Mufukare in an interview.
Mufukare said although solar irrigation is expensive to set up, it becomes cheaper and easy to maintain once the system is established.
“All along we have been using a diesel powered engine to pump water for the irrigation but it has been costly to us. We have been using about 600 litres of diesel per month at a cost of $750. The costs were very high and unsustainable and this is why we basically had to seek alternative sources of energy,” said Mufukare.
She said once the solar system is fully functional, the organisation is going to intensify its horticulture production at the farm.
“As soon as the solar project starts running smoothly, we are going to train young people mainly girls in horticulture farming. The young people will be trained for six months in areas like soil improvement and other aspects of modern farming,” said Mufukare.
Mufukare said after the training, the organisation is also going to help the youths in marketing their produce.
“We believe if successfully implemented, this project is going to improve the income of not only the women but the centre itself as well. This project is definitely going to wean us from donors,” she said.
Speaking at the grant’s signing ceremony, Savage said the US government will continue to support and promote clean energy programmes in Zimbabwe.
“I am very excited about this project because it will contribute to efforts by women in Lupane to make a positive economic impact on their immediate families and the community. It is also my hope that the grant will enable the women to expand their farming activities,” said Savage.
According to Mufukare, a total of 4 835 people are set to directly benefit from the solar project.
The Lupane Agritex District Officer, Sukoluhle Dube, pledged government‘s support to the project.
“Agritex will continue to assist the farmers with technical assistance. To us, the project is very important because it is the first of its kind in the district. We will provide the farmers with all the assistance they need,” said Dube.
The United States African Development Foundation is an independent US government agency established by congress to support African –owned enterprises which improve lives in poor and vulnerable communities in Africa.
The agency invests directly in community enterprises, providing seed capital and local technical support to early stage agriculture, energy and youth –led enterprises in Zimbabwe.