Elita Chikwati Agriculture Reporter
Sam Masvinure walks daily for over a kilometre to the nearest borehole to get safe drinking water; he travels another long distance to a silted river bed for hi cattle to get water to drink. Life has become unbearable for Masvinure and other villagers because of drought.

Drought has also affected people in the urban areas as they now have difficulties accessing safe drinking water. The blame has been put on the El Nino-induced drought which has caused severe water and food shortages for both humans and animals in the entire Sadc region.

Most people have turned to sinking boreholes with others venturing into irrigation to solve the issue of drinking water and food production.

The 2015/16 El Nino-induced drought has resulted in many rivers and dams drying up. The water table has dropped to levels as low as below 100 metres in most areas, a situation that has left thousands of households across the country water insecure.

The situation has been made worse by the siltation of rivers and dams as a result of bad farming practices such as stream bank cultivation and cultivation of wetlands. Such careless practices have worsened life during hard times such as the 2015/16 drought.

Drought is a natural phenomenon that people have little control over. Under such hard times irrigation becomes an important intervention. With irrigation, farmers can produce a variety of crops throughout the year boosting national food reserves and reducing imports.

In areas of very low rainfall, such as Natural Regions IV and V, farmers can enjoy the human dignity of producing their own food instead of depending on food handouts from Government and other non-Governmental organisations once they have irrigation.

With irrigation, farmer incomes are significantly higher than incomes of dryland farmers. Farmers are also able to produce high value crops for local and export market, thus participating in the mainstream economy.

Levels of inputs in terms of quantity are higher in irrigation schemes than in dryland areas, suggesting that there is more intensive crop production in irrigation schemes than in dryland agriculture.

In areas such as Manicaland, irrigation development has made it possible for other rural infrastructure to be developed in areas which could have remained without roads schools and clinics.

Government has come up with different irrigation projects including Brazil’s More Food for Africa programme. The farmers received irrigation equipment and tillage equipment under the programme. While such interventions are critical, farmers should on the other side complement the efforts by following good farming practices that do not affect the environment.

For instance, in Zimbabwe many rivers have dried up due to siltation. The farmers have gone to plant their crops on the river bed while others have turned to wetlands. This has affected many irrigation schemes that were contributing a lot to the improvement of livelihoods for many communities.

Government has come up with a de-silting programme which will see 3 000 dams de-silted nationwide. While this exercise is a noble one, it is expensive. Prevention is better than cure. Farmers should practice good farming methods and save the environment.

Environmental experts are worried about improper alluvial mining and gold panning along stream banks which has also led to siltation of rivers and dams. The continuous cutting down of trees has led to deforestation and increased the washing away of soils into rivers and dams and drying up of water sources for humans, livestock and agriculture purposes.

Extension officers in several areas have complained that farmers no longer construct contours ridges despite being educated on the importance of the structures. All these actions will ultimately affect the environment and worsen lives.

Zimbabwe’s potential for improved agricultural yields through irrigation can never be over-emphasised. This is evident in the various water bodies in all provinces in the country but only 78 204 hectares of land are under irrigation.

It is disturbing that Zimbabwe last season recorded a huge deficit in crop production after a bad rainfall season and is now importing food. This could have been avoided had all irrigation schemes been functional.

Although it is important for Government to rehabilitate the infrastructure and invest in irrigation, there is also need for the farmers to play their part by maintaining the equipment and observing good agricultural practices.

With the frequent droughts the country has been experiencing, it is clear that farmers can no longer rely on rain-fed agriculture but should invest in irrigation even on a small-scale to ensure household and national food security.

A visit to some of the beneficiaries of the Brazil More Food for Africa projects are evidence enough of how important irrigation is to the agriculture sector.

However, all these efforts may be in vain if farmers continue with their careless practices. Besides bad farming methods threatening irrigation projects, there have also been growing concerns over the vandalism of irrigation equipment as people steal the equipment for resale.

Most irrigation schemes have collapsed due to vandalism and theft of key infrastructure. In some cases farmers have incurred huge losses as their crops are wasted after vandalism of equipment. For instance, wheat depends on irrigation and a farmer can incur huge loss if the irrigation equipment is vandalised during the winter season.

The development of irrigation infrastructure allows farmers to supplement rain-fed agriculture and permits continuous crop production and facilitates increased productivity. It also enables the country to expand agriculture activities as dry areas can be turned into highly productive projects.

In the case of irrigation infrastructure, priority should also be given to the adoption of technologies such as drip and canal irrigation which use less power as compared to the overhead sprinklers.

As part of contribution to community schemes, extractive firms should undertake rehabilitation of dams and development of irrigation infrastructure within their communities in return for social empowerment credits.

This will go a long way in alleviating the impact of recurring droughts as a result of climate change and in reducing the negative consequences of floods.

Even if Government and the private sector were to come up with irrigation as a way of mitigating drought, this would not have the intended impact as most rivers have dried up due to siltation.

Even if we invest in irrigation we will continue to have problems. It is expensive to de-silt. We first have to stop the illegal practices before de-silting the rivers and dams. Farmers will only realise the severity of these careless practices when the country faces disaster such as this drought.