Zimbabwean debates on irrigation have concentrated on expansion of hectarage under irrigation, whilst skirting around the socio-economic effects of such investments. Attention paid to the socio-economic impact of smallholder irrigation development although growing is still limited. This study aims at contributing to a better understanding of the smallholder irrigation sector.
The impact assessment was carried out on ten smallholder irrigation projects through Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) covering the farmers, various institutions and local authorities. Comparative impact analysis was effected across agro-ecological zones, between different irrigation systems as well as between farmer managed and government managed schemes. Five of the schemes (Chitora, Murara, Mzinyathini, Principe and Wenimbi) were pre-assumed to be operating well and the other five (Longdale, Mambanjeni Ngezi, Mamina, Oatlands and Rozva) were pre-judged to be poor.
It came out from the study that whilst some schemes can be performing very well others can actually be performing badly. Good schemes can result in increased productivity, improved incomes and nutrition, employment creation, food security and drought relief savings for the government. All these effects are paramount for economic and social development. Poor schemes struggle to achieve the above improvements.
Efforts were made to assess what makes good schemes good and bad schemes bad. Factors, which determine the performance of an irrigation scheme, include planning, group cohesion, institutional support, strength of the Irrigation Management Committee (IMC), choice of crops, appropriateness of the technical design and the commitment of the farmers.
The following are the major findings of the study:
- Projects that are planned with full farmer participation perform better than those that are planned by experts on their own do.
- Projects planned by consultants without PRA experience have operational problems.
- Projects that are viewed by farmers as being their projects perform better than projects that are viewed by them as belonging to the government.
- Investment in operation and maintenance is determined by the feeling of the farmers on the ownership of the scheme. Those schemes for which farmers have a sense of ownership are better looked after than those for which farmers think assets belong to the government.
- The question of inheritance is a critical determinant of the level of investment by the farmers.
- Government managed schemes have operation and maintenance problems because of budgetary constraints.
- Farmer managed schemes tend to embark on high value crops, while government managed schemes concentrate on grain crops which are easy to market.
- Water management is good on farmer managed schemes, for fear of high electricity bills, and poor at government managed schemes, since they do not pay the costs.
- Chitora, Murara, Mzinyathini, Principe and Wenimbi were found to be financially and economically viable while the rest are not viable from both financial and economic points of view.
- Projects which use recommended high levels of inputs get higher yields than those which do not.
- Farmer managed schemes have developed commercial mentality in contrast to government managed schemes.
- Surface irrigation systems are more labour intensive than sprinkler irrigation systems.
- Escalating energy costs threaten the viability of some schemes.
- The farmers do not welcome interference of government officials on the running of the schemes.
- Transporters shun projects where roads are not well developed, thereby affecting their marketing potential.
- Projects which draw participants from different backgrounds may have internal problems and usually suffer from lack of group cohesion.
- Politicians should not interfere much on the planning of the projects
The study led to the following recommendations:
- Farmers should participate in all the project phases from planning to implementation and evaluation.
- A bottom up approach should be followed for irrigation development, treating farmers as "owners" rather than "beneficiaries" of the projects.
- Consultants who are not familiar with PRA methods and who have no smallholder irrigation development experience should not be engaged for these kinds of jobs.
- It is legitimate to develop farmer managed irrigation schemes, as they result in very little financial burden on the government for operation and maintenance.
- The government, given the budgetary constraints affecting it, should find a way of handing over the existing schemes to the farmers for management.
- Only projects which are technically sound should be handed over to the farmers.
- Given that water is the most important factor in smallholder irrigation development, efficient water saving systems should be adopted.
- For any planned schemes, study tours to existing irrigation schemes should be organized prior to the introduction of irrigation.
- Training in water management, general crop production and marketing are important for the new as well as the old schemes.
- It might be important to help farmers with inputs for the first season so that they can build a cash flow base.
- Institutional support should be enhanced in smallholder irrigation development.
- Continuous monitoring of irrigation schemes is necessary to provide feedback information that helps in the planning, implementation and management of future schemes.
- An integrated rural development approach should be followed in any agricultural development programme.