Farmers turn to renewable solar energy

By Brian Nkiwane

Persistent power cuts (load Shedding) introduced by the power utility company Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) that are running close to 16 hours per day, coupled by ever rising fuel prices,  have negatively affected production in all sectors of the economy including irrigations schemes.

ZESA has attributed the power cuts to depleting water levels in Kariba Dam, the country’s major hydro-electric power station. 

According to ZESA, this has also been worsened by shortages of foreign currency to import electricity from neighbouring South Africa and Mozambique as well as fuel. 

This has left several economic activities, such as Stanmore Irrigation Scheme, 80 kilometers east of Zimbabwe’s southern town of Masvingo, with no option but to turn to solar energy to alleviate hunger in and around areas surrounding Masvingo Province.

Similarly affected is Chebvute Irrigation Scheme, about 50 kilometers west of Masvingo town.  Both schemes are banked rolled by United Nations agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP). 

Solar power energy that is being used to draw water from the nearby dam at Chebvute Irrigation Scheme where residents specialise in horticulture and tilapia fish farming.

Stanmore Irrigation consists of a cluster of farmers who were resettled at this farm which used to be owned by a white farmer who was forced out during the bloody land invasions led by Zanu PF youths and war veterans.

FAO, has contributed to the growth of the irrigation scheme through the provision of a farm manager who is always at their disposal with the requisite technical expertise. The manager provides expertise in plant population and spacing, and use of herbicides to kill weeds. 

The farmers  are producing wheat, maize and different horticulture produce that include veggies, tomatoes and carrots, among others.

A cross-section of a wheat field at Stanmore Irrigation Scheme

However, persistent power outages and acute fuel prices had put all their dreams in disarray, but thanks to a well-wisher who came to their rescue at a time of need.

Speaking to journalists and delegates from different UN agencies, chairman of Stanmore Irrigation Scheme, Amon Bumhudzo, expressed gratitude for what the UN agencies have been doing to uplift their lives since the programme started.

“This irrigation programme has changed our lives since we came to this farm in 2004. Most of us came here with nothing, but look at the houses, farming and cars that people now drive. 

“Most of us have managed to send our children to school up to university levels. Most of us have become businessmen, what else would we want?” remarked  a visibly excited Bumhudzo.

However, Bumhudzo did not mince his words and brought to light some of the problems they are facing which they believe have been hindering progress. 

“Since the time ZESA started load shedding, things have not been easy for us especially in terms of watering. We use electricity to power our engines that draw water from the nearby Mutilikwi River.

 “Because electricity is always not available during the day and only gets reconnected around 10 pm, we have resorted to watering our products at night which is not good …” 

Bumhudzo added: “It is very difficult to water at night because, it’s not easy to walk in-between crops while our risers are watering, and when pipes burst as it is the norm, one will not see (easily notice) the burst pipe hence wasting a lot of water in the process.”

Bumhudzo added that things started to normalise after the scheme received solar powered generators that they now use for drawing water from Mutilikwi River and irrigation can now be done during the day.

“We had been having this power outage problem for a long time now. But after the installation of the solar powered generators that help in drawing water, production has since improved and we (are) happy with the arrangement. What we need  … now is to improve the capacity of the generators,” noted Bumhudzo.

Stanmore Irrigation Scheme came into existence in 2004 with 32 farmers who had been practicing group farming on the 32 hectares of land which has been divided into four main blocks.

According to the chairman, in Block A, each farmer has 0,25  hectares of wheat while in Block B each farmer has 0,1 hectors of cabbage. The farmers are also allowed to plant any other horticulture produce on the remaining land in Block B, such as tomatoes and vegetables, among others.

The third Block has been set aside for maize under the Smart Agriculture scheme where they have been planting the 727 maize variety. The same is true same with Chebvute Irrigation Scheme where farmers are also into market gardening. 

The fish farming project is one of the many projects that people under Headman Radis in Chief Shumba’s territory have been undertaking since 2017 when the programme was initiated by one of the UN agencies, World Food Programme (WFP).

From left: Judith Zivuku (in Blue t-shirt) and granny Mutasa, keeping guard of the fish eagles at the cooperatives’ two fish ponds in Masvingo.

Meanwhile, from the way they were seated, Judith Zivuku (32), son Tinashe (4), granny Mutasa (68), and grandson Tapiwa (3), one would think they were just passing time while shelling groundnuts. 

But after a brief conversation, it became clear the four were actually on duty. 

They had actually checked in for duty two hours earlier, at 10am and expected to knock off at around 4 pm, to keep guard against fish eagles which are threatening to extinguish one of their successful money spinning project, the telapia fish farming project.

The projects started in 2017 following combined efforts by the villagers.

 “Life has always been difficult for us here in Masvingo especially taking into consideration that the region is not all that favourable in terms of rainfall patterns. However, the UN through its agencies have done a lot for us.

 “Now we  … have everything that we want in terms of infrastructure, food, water and even a better lifestyle,” said Zivuku.

 “I am married, yes, but my husband is not employed. But for now (and) with this cooperative farming project, we are having a fair share of life, we can afford to send one of our kids to school while we provide for or families.”

In 2018, the co-operative moved a gear up and started production which has seen them running a money spinning fish farming project,  ‘rainbow garden’, bee project, as well as free range chicken project.

“… we are keeping guard against the fish eagles which usually pounce on our fish. So as members of the co-operative we take turns to come here and keep guard.” 

However, we thought it would be prudent to bring our groundnuts so that we can shell them while we keep guard,” said Zivuku.

 “We call this one a rainbow garden because any mother can get everything she would want for the kitchen. Our projects complement each other as we use things like bad veggies for the fish, while we use chicken feed for crop production.”

One of the two fish ponds at Chebvute

Meanwhile, Zivuku said the community had been facing severe water problems.

“We have been facing water problems of late because if the small dam …  runs dry, we will then be required to get water from far away sources. So we have suggested increasing the size of the dam … so that when rain falls, the dam will be able to hold an improved quantity of water which might help us in the long run.”

She, however, thanked UN and its agencies for putting in place a solar powered engine that draws water from the bodies that are some kilometers away to complement their usual water source.

“The solar powered engine that draws water to make sure we keep the fish pond full of water was a welcome move. We can have green veggies year round, thanks to UN and its agencies,” she said. 

Post Author: Chido Luciasi

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