Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

Annex A-5 Mzinyathini Irrigation Scheme


Mzinyathini irrigation scheme is located in Umzingwane District of Matabeleland South Province. It is one of the most successful farmer managed surface irrigation schemes in Zimbabwe. Established in 1965, the scheme has never suffered from any problems, except in 1979 when it had to close down because of the liberation war which was at its peak. The scheme is in the dry Natural Region IV and acts as a source of food security for the surrounding communities. Maize and wheat are sold locally and in most cases they are used to pay hired labour. Crop yields are significantly high due to the use of recommended levels of inputs by most farmers. An average income of Z$ 20 000/ha was realized during the 1996/97 season. This is ten times the average income obtained under dryland. The successes of Mzinyathini irrigation scheme are the result of good planning, group cohesion and a capable IMC. The scheme now needs some rehabilitation since this has not been done since its implementation in 1965.


The Mzinyathini irrigation scheme is in the Mzinyathini communal area of Umzingwane District, Matabeleland South Province. The scheme is about 20 km from Esigodini business centre. The scheme is close to a number of business centres, which are Mawabeni (5 km), Mbalabala (10 km) and Esibomvu (20 km). Roads from the scheme to all these centres are tarred except for that one to Esibomvu, which is a well maintained all weather gravel road.

The scheme is located in Natural Region IV, a region which receives low rainfall and is subject to periodic seasonal droughts. Average annual rainfall is about 563 mm. Mzinyathini scheme is 32 ha large with 81 plot holders, each having 0.4 ha. The scheme draws water from the Umzingwane Dam, which is across Mzinyathini River. A surface irrigation system is used and water is gravitated from the dam to a night storage reservoir. From the reservoir, water is distributed into the fields through concrete lined canals.

Planning of the scheme

Mzinyathini scheme started to operate in 1965, after the construction of the Umzingwane Dam. The scheme was a result of an agreement made between the Bulawayo town municipality and the government Department of Native Affairs in 1959. The two parties agreed to have a dam constructed on the Mzinyathini River. Included in the agreement was the understanding that the government was to be permitted to abstract 1 million m3 of water from the dam free of charge for communal area development. Under the dam agreement, the Bulawayo municipality donated £30 000 (Rhodesian pounds) to the government for any purpose considered beneficial for the Mzinyathini communal people. Part of the money was used to develop Mzinyathini irrigation scheme and part of the money was used to provide piped water for domestic use and livestock in the Mzinyathini communal area. This involves pumping water from the night storage reservoir in the irrigation scheme to a command point and then bringing it by gravity to domestic supply points.

Social aspects

Land ownership and inheritance

The system of inheritance in place is that once the plot holder dies, the surviving spouse takes over. If both spouses die, the children inherit the irrigated plot. In some cases, where a registered irrigation plot holder feels he is too old to manage the 0.4 ha, he gives portions of his plot to one or more relatives. In return, these relatives pay the full levy of the plot and/or provide labour for the "landlord". From the survey, it was established that 23% of the farmers were leasing out their plots for labour. The scheme bye-laws allow the leasing to take place, but the owner of the plot will be fully responsible for the operation and maintenance of the scheme infrastructure.

Relationship with outsiders

The irrigators have a good working relationship with the surrounding villages. Irrigators usually hire non-irrigators to provide labour at planting, weeding, harvesting and marketing. The labour is paid either in money or in kind. During droughts, the scheme acts as a source of food for the surrounding community. As such, non-irrigators find it important to work harmoniously with their counterparts.

Scheme operation, maintenance and management

Irrigation Management Committee

The scheme is farmer managed through an Irrigation Management Committee (IMC). The committee consists of seven members who are:

  1. Chairperson and deputy chairperson
  2. Secretary and deputy secretary
  3. Treasurer
  4. Two committee members

The IMC is tasked with the day to day running of the scheme. This involves settling disputes, organizing repairs and maintenance of the scheme infrastructure and collecting the irrigation levy. Overall, the IMC is managing to run the scheme. It has been able to collect the fee on a yearly basis. It persuades and motivates the irrigators to pay the O&M fee and difficult irrigators are summoned before the committee as a last resort. The ability of the management committee to mobilize farmers to do maintenance work as well as O&M fee collection is evidence of irrigators' desire to remain in the scheme as well as their capability to run their own affairs. The only problem mentioned by the IMC as hindering the smooth operation of the scheme was lack of back-up service from the police. The IMC has no power to arrest or detain offenders. There were cases where thieves were caught stealing, they handed them to the police only to be released the same day.

Repairs and maintenance

Irrigators pay Z$ 175/ha per year for the operation and maintenance of the scheme. According to the IMC there are no problems regarding the payment of this O&M fee. The irrigators also cut grass, repair canals and repair the main pipeline from the dam to the reservoir. This pipeline is old (over 30 years) and leaks frequently. However, farmers have managed to maintain it properly.

Institutional support

Two institutions facilitate the day to day management of the scheme. These are AGRITEX and DWR


AGRITEX has a full time resident Extension Worker on the scheme who is responsible for giving technical advice on irrigated crop production, irrigation scheduling and water management.


This department is responsible for maintaining Mzinyathini dam. A water bailiff is employed by the department to open and close the water for the scheme.

Agricultural performance

Major irrigated crops at the scheme are groundnuts and sugar beans in summer and green maize, wheat and horticultural crops in winter. Horticultural crops include cabbage, onion, rape and tomatoes. The cropping pattern is arrived at after discussions between the IMC, farmers and AGRITEX staff. Agronomic consideration, food requirements and availability of markets are the major factors taken into account in coming up with the cropping programme. An examination of the dryland agriculture revealed that non-irrigators grow maize, groundnuts, bambara nuts and sorghum on an average plot size of 1 ha. Horticultural crops are not grown by non-irrigators. The cropping pattern of the two populations indicated that they are different. While non-irrigators grow crops purely for subsistence, irrigators grow the high paying horticultural crops. This means that irrigators are participating in the mainstream economy while non-irrigators are not.

A comparative analysis of yields showed that irrigators get much higher yields than non-irrigators. Table 32 gives the average yields for the two types of farmers during the 1995/96 cropping season.

Comparative analysis of irrigation and dryland crop yields during the 1995/96 season at Mzinyathini irrigation scheme (Source: Farmers' and Extension Worker's record books, 1998)

Crop Irrigation yields (tons/ha) Dryland yields (tons/ha) % increase of irrigated over dryland yield
Maize 6 - 8 0.6 - 2 200 - 1 233
Groundnuts 2 0.7 - 1 100 - 186

The analysis in Table 32 indicates that crop yields have gone up manifold with irrigation. The higher yields obtained under irrigation are attributed to the high levels of inputs used in irrigation. In dryland, farmers confirmed that they are scared of using fertilizers, because they will burn their crops due to lack of rainfall. This is a legitimate concept given the limitations posed by weather on their cropping activities. In Mzinyathini scheme, irrigated maize is applied with 400 kg/ha fertilizer as opposed to 100 kg/ha in the dryland. Groundnuts are given on average 300 kg/ha gypsum as opposed to nothing or very little in dryland. These discrepancies in fertilizer application means that the two groups are totally different. While irrigators are operating on commercial lines, non-irrigators are not.

Commercial aspects


The main marketing centres for produce from the scheme are the four business centres near the scheme. The centres are all within a 20 km radius from the scheme and are all linked to the scheme by excellent roads. The business centres are namely Esigodini (20 km), Mawabeni (5 km), Mbalabala (10 km) and Esibomvu (20 km). Produce such as green maize and horticultural crops is also marketed in Bulawayo. Some dealers come with their own transport to buy produce at the farm gate.

Input acquisition

The four business centres, which act as markets for scheme produce, are also local sources of inputs and chemicals. However, all horticultural seeds are acquired from Bulawayo town.

Farm income analysis

High incomes were reported at Mzinyathini irrigation scheme. Thirty farmers interviewed reported net incomes ranging from Z$ 6 000 to Z$ 12 000 per year from the 0.4 ha plots for the 1996/97 cropping season. The gross incomes reported by thirty non-irrigators interviewed ranged from Z$ 800 to Z$ 5 000 per year. A comparative analysis of the two groups indicates that irrigators on average get ten times more income than non-irrigators. The irrigators reported that because of these benefits a large number of non-irrigators are now willing to participate in irrigation, as evidenced by the long waiting list of over three hundred dryland farmers.

Financial and economic analysis

The results of the financial and economic analysis are summarized in Tables 33 and 34 respectively.

From the financial analysis it is clear that Mzinyathini irrigation scheme is viable since the FIRR exceeds 9.75%, which is the cost of borrowing. The project gives a positive net present value (NPV), which means that it is an attractive investment. The analysis also shows a favourable benefit cost ration (BCR) of 2.14.

The results of the economic analysis show that the project is economically viable. The NPV is positive and EIRR is greater than the cut off point of 8.5%. This scheme is an attractive project for the society to invest since it contributes positively towards growth.

Summary of financial analysis for Mzinyathini irrigation scheme

FIRR (%) NPV (Z$) Benefit Cost Ratio
24 62 524 2.14

Table 34
Summary of economic analysis for Mzinyathini irrigation scheme

EIRR (%) NPV (Z$) Benefit Cost Ratio
19 46 397 1.46

Socio-economic impact

Mzinyathini irrigation scheme is one of the viable schemes in the Matabeleland South Province. It has contributed much in the areas of food security, employment creation and income generation. Irrigators get substantially higher yields than non-irrigators. This is an indication of the importance of irrigation in agricultural development. Given the harsh climatic conditions in the Mzinyathini communal area, the irrigation scheme acts as the only source of grain in times of drought. In fact the scheme has never suffered any grain shortage since inception. It was reported that during the droughts of 1984/85 and 1991/92 the scheme cushioned most villagers against starvation.

The diversification into horticultural crops by irrigators also means a diversification of diet. Women in particular were quite happy with the nutritious food the children eat from the scheme. This includes beans, tomatoes and leafy vegetables. Non-irrigators rely heavily on the scheme for such type of food. The scheme has also been shown to improve household food security in the surrounding area through free transfer of food. Irrigators give significant amount of grain and other crops to non-irrigating friends and relatives. This culture of giving help to ensure that very few if any in the area starve.

The labour hired by the irrigators means that the scheme is a source of employment for the dryland community. Irrigators acknowledge that irrigation demands a lot of labour, especially for siphoning, weeding, harvesting and transplanting. Both full time and hired labour were shown to be important in the scheme. Of the 30 farmers interviewed, 25 had one full time worker each. However this is not enough, so the permanent labour is supplemented by casual labour. The fact that over 95% of the household heads are resident on the farm is another indication that irrigation is providing adequate incomes for the farmers and thus it is an attractive employer. Incomes of Z$ 6 000 - Z$ 12 000 per year from the 0.4 ha plots are being obtained. Farmers feel comfortable with these levels of incomes.

The scheme provides some forward and backward linkages in the community. It provides a market for the retailing business at the Mawani business centre. The high incomes of the farmers result in high demand for retail goods. Irrigators were found to consume meat, bread, rice, soap and other goodies. Esigodini business centre, just 20 km away, also benefits significantly from the scheme. This centre stocks most agricultural inputs such as seed, fertilizer and pesticides. The importance of the irrigation scheme was confirmed by some community leaders in the area during informal interviews. They indicated that while non-irrigators receive food handouts from the government every year, irrigators rely on their own food grown on the scheme. This means the scheme results in a lot of drought relief savings for the government.


Mzinyathini is one of the successful smallholder schemes in Zimbabwe. Being in one of the country's driest regions, the scheme has a significant role to play as far as food security is concerned. The scheme has indeed proven that smallholder farmers can successful manage their own affairs. The ability of the IMC to mobilize farmers to pay the repair and maintenance costs indicates that they are quite capable of managing the scheme. The good performance of the scheme is also attributable to the following factors:

Irrigation is valued: The scheme is located in a dry region where inadequate rainfall limits agricultural production. Without irrigation it is rare to get any good yields and a result the farmers value the role of irrigation.

Group cohesion: Farmers are very much cooperative, making the management of the scheme easy.

Sense of ownership: The fact that farmers are involved in the operation and management of the scheme makes them feel that the scheme is theirs.

Markets are available: Numerous business centres surround the scheme, which makes marketing relatively easy.

Land inheritance: The system of inheritance in place makes the farmers feel secure.

Previous PageTop Of PageNext Page