Smallholder irrigation has a role to play in agricultural and economic development of Zimbabwe. The high yields obtained in irrigation, coupled with other benefits such as increased incomes, food security, employment creation, drought relief savings and so on, are an indication that irrigation can be a vehicle for the long term agricultural and macro-economic development. With water being the scarcest resource especially in the smallholder sector, the need for irrigation development in this sector is quite apparent.
The ten schemes studied indicated that smallholder schemes can be financially, economically, socially and technically viable or non-viable. The most important factor that came out as affecting the viability of the irrigation schemes is the mode of planning. Projects that are planned with full farmer participation appear to be more viable than those that are imposed on farmers. By involving farmers in the planning they develop a sense of ownership, making them willing to participate in the operation and maintenance. The planning of schemes by consultants lacking PRA and smallholder irrigation development experiences seems to create problems. These professionals normally lack participatory approaches that are very important as far as smallholder agricultural development is concerned. Such consultants do not have the time to invest in doing the necessary social investigations in consultation with the farmers. For example, the failure of the consultants to involve farmers during the identification phase of Rozva scheme created a lot of problems. Farmers were only told when the land had already been identified. This was not welcomed by the farmers and up to now this is one of the factors negatively affecting the performance of Rozva. Similar problems occurred at Mzinyathini and Ngezi Mamina. The technical designs made by consultants are not suited for smallholder management and no farmer input was searched for during the design process.
It also came out clearly that social aspects, such as land tenure and the social setting, should be considered in the planning of a scheme. Some of the problems at Ngezi Mamina are of a social nature and were not addressed at planning. The question of inheritance is an important determinant of the level of infield investment by the farmers. If farmers are able to inherit the plots, some element of security is felt and thus farmers can invest. For example, the Oatlands farmers who have no sense of security are reluctant to take part in any form of O&M for their scheme. The selection of people of different backgrounds may create problems on a scheme. For example, at Principe and Rozva participants were drawn from different places and from people with different backgrounds. Some farmers at Principe are good while others are not and this affects the scheme performance negatively. At Rozva farmers were taken from two kraals which are historically enemies and can not work together. This aspect was not captured at the planning stage and is now affecting the smooth running of the scheme. It is therefore recommended that some thorough social investigations, involving sociologists or social anthropologists, should be done prior to any irrigation development.
The choice of technology came out to be important, especially for women. Surface systems were said to have higher labour demands than sprinkler systems. It is recommended that future planning should take this into account. High electricity bills are a problem for some pumped schemes and generally the energy costs seem to be rising every now and again. Systems that require less energy, like low pressure sprinkler and localized systems, should be looked at seriously.
The type of management was found to very important as it affects the level of O&M, the cropping pattern practiced, and the general viability of the schemes. Farmer managed schemes, if properly planned, have better O&M than government managed schemes. It came out that all farmer managed schemes, except Longdale which is having some technical problems, have efficient O&M. Government managed schemes have problems because of budgetary constraints. Frequent pump breakdowns and disconnection of electricity are common at government managed schemes. The ability of some farmer managed schemes like Chitora and Wenimbi to pay for their O&M costs indicate that these schemes can be self sustaining and that the government in future should concentrate in establishing such type of irrigation schemes. This will be in line with the thrust of ZIMPREST to cut down on government expenditure.
Good irrigation water management is a problem at schemes which do not pay for O&M costs. Schemes such as Ngezi Mamina and Oatlands tend not to use water efficiently. The farmers have nothing to loose since the government pays the electricity bills. It is recommended that some cost recovery measures should be instituted to make farmers much more responsible. Given that water is a scarce resource, allowing these farmers to continue wasting water is not acceptable. These schemes should be turned over into farmer managed schemes to make farmers more responsible.
Marketing, especially through contract farming, has proven to be a problem for smallholder farmers. Most of the contracts are verbal and farmers usually are cheated by unscrupulous dealers at the end. The terms are always in favour of the buyers and farmers lack the bargaining power. Training in contract marketing is hereby recommended as a means of safeguarding the farmers against some unscrupulous companies.
The study of the ten schemes has also shown that in future all smallholder irrigation development should take an integrated rural development approach covering irrigation infrastructure and associated communication and health facilities. This will result in schemes not being shunned by transporters because of poor roads, as is happening at present at Chitora scheme. Improved communication facilities will ensure that farmers get marketing information timely through such means as telephone. Health facilities should also be near the scheme. For example, Principe farmers complained that the nearest clinic was 22 km away and this was too far for them. Given the fact that irrigation development can be associated with diseases such as malaria and bilharzia, the need for health facilities can not be over-emphasized.
The "priority date" system for water allocation, which is based on the "first come first served" principle, has proven to work against smallholder irrigation in Zimbabwe. This was illustrated by the Wenimbi scheme where a commercial farmer upstream fails to release water for the smallholder scheme downstream during times of shortages. This is because the commercial farmer has an earlier water right, which gets precedence over the Wenimbi farmers' water right, which was granted at a later date. This tends to affect the performance of Wenimbi negatively during times of water shortages. The government is already in the process of replacing this biased Water Act by a better system that results in equitable distribution of water. This new system utilizes the concept of water permits, which are issued for a five-year period and renewable if need be. The permit system is managed by Catchment Councils, which are appointed on a catchment basis to administer the allocation of water. The councils comprise representatives of all stakeholders including the smallholder farmers. The permits issued to farmers can be revised at any time at the discretion of the Council to ensure equitable distribution of water. During times of water shortages the Catchment Council distributes water according to its availability and ensures that all users get an equal share. This means that for most smallholder irrigation schemes, like Wenimbi, problems once caused by the old system of water allocation will soon be a thing of the past.
In the analysis of the ten schemes it has come out clearly that at times the government just stops its management obligations on irrigation schemes without properly handing over the O&M to the farmers. This creates problems at such schemes as farmers remain with the understanding that the government is still responsible. It is important that the government works out a clear, transparent and systematic system of handing over government managed schemes to the farmers. This will avoid some of the problems cited in this report. It is also important to be transparent and not to threaten people as a way of making them accept a project. These blunders were made at Rozva scheme and farmers always refer to such events. The farmers claim that they were promised inputs by AGRITEX at the beginning of the scheme, but this promise up to now has not been honoured. Some politicians also threatened them with eviction if they refused the project. This was all done in an attempt to make farmers accept the scheme and this did not go well with the farmers.
Civil servants and other employed people should not get priority during plot allocation in irrigation schemes. Government officials should not unnecessarily interfere with the running of irrigation schemes. The problems at Ngezi Mamina are said to be partly due to this interference. At Principe, the Resettlement Officer and the Council are making decisions on behalf of the farmers and the farmers are not happy at all. They now consider the project to belong to the government, despite the fact that they are responsible for the O&M costs.
A major constraint in irrigation development in the past was the top-down approach by the government, which viewed the "target population" primarily as beneficiaries rather than as customers or stakeholders. In turn, "beneficiaries" perceived the government as a "free delivery channel" and consequently no one would be willing to pay for O&M. There was also a tendency for technical experts and politicians to make decisions on behalf of the farmer. The experts pretended to know what was best for the poor, uneducated farmer. The government is moving away from this approach and participatory planning is now being highly emphasized.
Irrigation planning should be treated seriously with full farmer involvement. The following is a summary of the recommendations that have come out of the study of the ten schemes. These are important for the implementation of viable and sustainable projects.