A Beacon of Hope in Drought-Stricken Buhera: The Mutunha Macro Irrigation Scheme

The solar-powered water reticulation system installed by the CARL project

In the heart of drought-stricken Buhera, Zimbabwe, the rejuvenated Mutunha Macro Irrigation Scheme emerged as a beacon of hope amidst adversity. Once forsaken, this critical project was revitalized through the Climate Adaptation for Rural Livelihoods (CARL) initiative, marking a turning point in the lives of local families.

Established in 2001 with support from Lutherans and the Zimbabwean government, the Mutunha Macro Irrigation Scheme sustains 37 farmers on a 19.5-hectare plot, including 13 female-headed households and 24 male-headed households. However, since 2005, the scheme laid inactive. With support from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and Oxfam GB through SAFIRE the scheme was restored in 2019, reviving local crop production.

The rehabilitation of the Mutunha macro irrigation scheme included infrastructure upgrades, transitioning from diesel-powered to solar-powered water reticulation systems, strengthening governance structures, enhancing crop production skills, and fostering market linkages. After rehabilitation, the 37 farmers received comprehensive training in irrigation management, agricultural practices, and business management, enabling them to contribute to national food security programs.

“The irrigation scheme has given me hope for a better future, and I’m excited to see what the next season brings,” says Tapiwa Chipanda (43), a smallholder farmer in the scheme.

The impact of the scheme was profound. “As a widow, this scheme has really helped me to sustain my family,” says 59-year-old Patience Gariwa. “I know that come what may I will always be able to put food on the table and pay school fees for my three grandchildren who are still going to school.”

Thanks to the Mutunha macro Irrigation scheme, each farmer has been empowered with a 0.5 ha plot, supplemented by an additional 2m specifically designated for horticulture. This innovative approach has enabled them to rotationally plant maize, beans, and wheat, yielding impressive harvests. On average, each farmer is now guaranteed a minimum of 200kgs of maize, 500kgs of beans, and at least 800kgs of wheat per season, significantly enhancing their food security and livelihoods.

Members of the Mutunha Macro Irrigation Scheme

“I’m so grateful for this irrigation scheme,” says Tapiwa. “With my harvest, I plan to reserve some bags for domestic consumption, ensuring my family has enough food throughout the year. I’ll sell the rest to generate income, which I’ll use to pay for my children’s school fees and invest in my farm.”

Even the farmer with the lowest yield in the scheme harvested 200kgs of maize, a stark contrast to the struggles faced by dryland farmers. This increase in yield ensures year-round food security, empowering farmers to plan for the future and invest in their families’ well-being.

The scheme also allocated 2 metres horticulture spaces to each farmer, enabling the cultivation of high-value crops like tomatoes and leafy vegetables. This initiative provided a consistent income source, particularly crucial for widows like Patience Gariwa, who can now sustain their families and support her grandchildren’s education.

Patience Gariwa

In addition to the irrigation scheme, farmers have also established a Village Savings and Lending (VSL) initiative, which has further contributed to their personal development. Farmers save their earnings collectively through this initiative, with each member contributing US$30 per month. They then lend to one another at a low-interest rate of 20%, allowing them to access capital for on-farm activities, household improvements, and other income-generating initiatives. Patience has even managed to build toilets at her homestead and buy a scotch cart, thanks to the VSL initiative. Others are now able to employ part-time workers in their fields, creating jobs and developing the community as a whole.

“With the VSL initiative, I’ve been able to access capital to improve my homestead and expand my farming activities,” says Patience. “The scotch cart has been a game-changer in transporting my farm produce, saving me time, energy and money as I used to hire the service. And the new toilet I built has saved my family from the cholera outbreak that claimed many lives some months back.”

Currently, farmers are busy preparing land and planting wheat, anticipating another successful harvest. Despite past challenges with payment delays from buyers and inflation, they remain optimistic about the future, leveraging local networks to minimize losses and ensure food security.

Patience standing beside her new scotch cart

“Last season, the farmers in this scheme yielded an impressive 7.2 tonnes of wheat, which they sold to the Grain Marketing Board,” said Mr Unganai Gadzo, the resident Agricultural Extension Officer. “However, the money they received was hit by inflation, as it was in the local currency. Despite this, the farmers are optimistic about the future. For the upcoming wheat produce, they have planned to leave some for domestic consumption and sell the rest to local networks to avoid losses. With the irrigation scheme, they have been able to transform their land into a productive oasis, and we are confident that they will continue to thrive.”

As the scheme continues to thrive, it is leaving a positive impact on the entire community, contributing to food security, economic growth, and household resilience. By prioritizing investment in agricultural infrastructure, governments and development partners can help communities adapt to climate change, ensuring food security and economic growth for generations to come.

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