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Literature review and study methodology

This chapter reviews a selection of the existing literature on smallholder irrigation. An attempt is made to cover not only literature specific to Zimbabwe but also some literature on other African and Asian countries. The last part of this chapter presents the methodology used in the study, a brief description of the study areas selected and the justification for selecting them.

Literature Review

Literature on smallholder irrigation in Zimbabwe gives conflicting conclusions on the viability and sustainability of smallholder schemes. A number of studies have claimed that earlier irrigation schemes, established by missionaries in the 1930s, performed well in terms of agricultural performance, financial and economic viability. Roder (1965) indicated that irrigation projects have been successful in enabling farmers to obtain a certain amount of wealth, "... substantially more than dryland farmers, probably more than employees of white farmers, and comparable to levels enjoyed by urban workers". This suggests that farmers in irrigation schemes as long back as the 1930s were earning higher incomes than dryland farmers. The schemes helped in reducing the rural to urban migration by offering the rural population an alternative source of employment and income. Roder further reported that irrigators' wealth was chiefly held in farm implements and in better houses. In a comparative analysis between irrigators at Nyanyadzi irrigation scheme in Zimbabwe and their dryland counterparts, irrigators' investment was estimated to be between Z$ 150 and Z$ 200 while dryland farmers' investment was estimated to be lower at Z$ 100. This indicated that irrigators were in a better position to invest in capital items than non-irrigators because of their higher incomes.

Alvord (1933) claimed that Mutema irrigation scheme in Manicaland Province of Zimbabwe had alleviated famine in the area. The same author further claimed that 28 ha under irrigation in Mutema area reduced the need for drought relief grain from government by approximately 90 to 180 tons per year.

Meinzen-Dick et al (1993) reported that the greatest food deficits in Zimbabwe appear to occur in dryland areas of Natural Region V. In their study they noted that fewer irrigation schemes ran out of food during the year than dryland areas. The same study mentions that the majority (72%) of farmers with between 0.25 ha and 0.5 ha of irrigated land reported that irrigated land was their only source of livelihood.

Rukuni (1984) showed that, in general, yields achieved on smallholder schemes are higher than rainfed dryland yields in communal areas. Meinzen-Dick et al (1993) showed that gross margins for irrigating farmers were significantly greater than for dryland farmers. They further pointed out that the effect of irrigation on increasing crop production and incomes is even more marked in the dry winter season, when dryland production is impossible because of lack of rain.

Ruigu and Rukuni (1990) indicated that smallholder schemes are generally financially viable. Makombe and Meinzen-Dick (1993) also shared the same sentiments.

FAO (1997a) also reported benefits from smallholder irrigation. In this socio-economic impact assessment of Hama Mavhaire, Hoyuyu 5 and Nyaitenga, irrigation schemes in Zimbabwe, it is reported that:

In the same report it is further pointed out that smallholder schemes can be even more viable if aspects such as reduction in drought relief handouts, employment creation and reduction of rural to urban migration are considered in the economic analysis of these schemes. With a more integrated approach smallholder irrigation can be the basis for rural development and improved standards of living among Zimbabwe's rural communities.

FAO (1997a) also gave some principal recommendations that can improve the management of smallholder irrigation schemes and enhance the benefits to farmers. Some of the recommendations are:

FAO (1997b) in a brief general overview of the smallholder irrigation sub-sector in Zimbabwe concluded that smallholder irrigation has brought many successes to farmers. The following observations were made:

The report, however, identified a number of constraints, which are hampering smallholder irrigation development in Zimbabwe. Some of them are:

Mupawose (1984) questioned the economic viability of smallholder irrigation schemes in Zimbabwe. The author pointed out that certain smallholder schemes have failed and are under-utilized. He attributed this to poor management, lack of inputs and irrigation experience by farmers. In the same report Mupawose advocated for the reduction of subsidies on smallholder irrigation and indicated that irrigation development has become expensive. He suggested that some form of cost recovery should be employed in these schemes.

A Southern African Development Community (SADC) report in 1992 reported that most new smallholder irrigation schemes in the Southern Africa region will not cover the cost of development and operation and are therefore uneconomic. The report further suggested that these schemes have a negligible impact on the national and household food security.

FAO (1997c) pointed out that many Sub-Saharan countries have realized the critical role of irrigation in food production, but that a number of constraints have been responsible for a relatively slow rate of irrigation development in this region. The constraints are:

FAO (1997c) further identified the following constraints to be affecting the capacity of farmers to invest and manage irrigation projects:

The same report also identified technologies that might be appropriate for the smallholder farmers like:

Jansen (1993) showed that for almost all crops, except cotton in marginal areas, irrigation is only profitable when it is subsidized by government. However the report left out the analysis of high value horticultural crops.

Elsewhere in Africa, in The Gambia, in the study of an irrigation scheme in the village of Chakunda Webb (1991) gave the following as some of the benefits of irrigation:

However, in the same report Webb pointed out that some of the irrigation schemes collapsed because of the following reasons:

In India, Sing and Misra (1960) compared the Sarda Canal irrigation and non-irrigating villages and made the following observations:

The study by Sing and Misra showed the benefits of irrigation in terms of improved crop productivity and employment creation to communal people.

The foregoing literature review indicates varying and sometimes contradicting views on the economic viability and socio-economic impact of smallholder irrigation development. Some literature has pointed out that smallholder irrigation schemes are agriculturally, financially and economically viable while other literature argues that such projects are not viable. However, none of the literature reviewed has gone a step further to explore and identify the factors which make good irrigation schemes perform well and those factors which make bad schemes non-viable. This study attempts to do this by examining ten smallholder irrigation schemes in Zimbabwe, thus contributing to a better understanding of this smallholder irrigation sub sector.

Study Methodology

The study looks at the performances of ten irrigation schemes in Zimbabwe, five of which are presumed to be doing well and the other five are poorly performing. The list of the selected schemes, and a summary of their details are given in Table 4.

Selected irrigation schemes

Scheme name

Irrigation technology

Natural Region

Type of management

Performance rating


Sprinkler III Farmer managed Excellent


Sprinkler III Farmer managed Poor


Sprinkler IV Government managed Poor


Surface IV Farmer managed Good


Surface IV Farmer managed Good

Ngezi Mamina

Sprinkler III Government managed Poor


Surface III Government managed Poor


Sprinkler II Jointly managed Average


Surface III Government managed Poor


Sprinkler III Farmer managed Good

Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) techniques were used in collecting data from the schemes. Descriptive statistics were generated to identify factors, which lead to conclusions on scheme viability or non-viability. Farm and scheme level data were generated to study the financial and economic viability of each scheme. The study draws on both primary and secondary data sources. The main emphasis was on the collection of survey data from household members of irrigators and non-irrigators for each scheme.

Informal interviews were carried out with some key informants. The objective was to get enough background information on what were the main issues on each individual irrigation scheme, so as to focus on these during PRA or on the other hand to fill the gaps in information left by the PRA. A checklist of questions used is presented in Annex B. The following key informants were interviewed for each irrigation scheme studied:

Selection criteria for irrigation schemes studied

Five of the ten irrigation schemes selected are performing well and the other five are performing poorly. The objective of balancing the good and bad schemes was to adequately explore what factors makes good schemes perform well and what factors makes bad schemes perform poorly.

Sixty percent of the selected schemes use sprinkler irrigation technology and the rest use surface irrigation. The reason for selecting more sprinkler schemes is that in Zimbabwe water is considered to be the most limiting resource in irrigation development. There is need to promote more efficient irrigation technologies like low pressure, low cost sprinkler and localized technologies.

A balance of farmer managed and government managed schemes was considered in the selection of the schemes. Emphasis was also put on schemes in the drier Natural Regions III and IV. These are the regions where crop production is severely curtailed by climate.

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