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Annex A-8 Principe Irrigation Scheme


Principe irrigation scheme is located in Shamva District of Mashonaland Central Province. The scheme can be described as an average irrigation scheme in terms of overall performance. About 60% of the farmers are performing very well in terms of crop production, income generation and the operation and maintenance of the scheme. The other 40% are not performing well. There is a marked difference between these two groups of farmers. The poor performance by some of the farmers is blamed on poor farmer selection. The farmers complained of too much interference in the running of the scheme from the District Council and the local Resettlement Officer. For example, it was alleged that if an irrigation plot become vacant for one reason or another the local authorities normally allocate it to a poor performing farmer without consulting the farmers. Due to this interference, it is not clear to the farmers who is supposed to run the scheme the farmers or the District Council. When asked the farmers felt that the scheme is theirs only as far as operation and maintenance costs are concerned but the land and the irrigation infrastructure belonged to the government.


Principe irrigation scheme, which is divided into blocks A and B, is located in Shamva District of Mashonaland Central Province. It is about 140 km north east of Harare town. The scheme is located in Natural Region II, a region that receives an average of about 900 mm of rainfall per year.

The scheme is 60 ha large with 60 plot holders, each holding a 1 ha plot. Each plot holder also owns a 0.4 ha dryland plot. Each of the blocks A and B utilizes a sprinkler system of irrigation. The water is released from Eben dam down, to a pick-up weir (one weir per block) and then pumped straight into the irrigation system using a single pump per block.

Planning of the scheme

The scheme was constructed between 1991 and 1993, using DANIDA funding under the DANIDA Support to Smallholder Irrigation Programme (SSIP). Farmers were settled after the irrigation scheme had already been completed. People who were settled on the scheme were required to have a Master Farmer training certificate, be between the ages of 18 and 45 years, be married and be in possession of resources with which to undertake agriculture. The District Council and the Resettlement Officer were responsible for vetting the applicants. While local authorities felt that the vetting was thorough, farmers think that it was not done in a transparent manner. It is alleged that there were some irregularities in the whole system. For example, there was no proof of marriage or of cattle ownership required during farmer selection.

Social aspects

Land tenure and inheritance

The system of inheritance on the scheme permits the wife to take over the plot if the husband dies. If both spouses die, the children take over the plot. Farmers are comfortable with this type of arrangement. However problems are envisaged in Block A, where a number of polygamous marriages exist. This situation is not covered in the bye-laws for the scheme. All the farmers interviewed were not sure on how to deal with polygamous families.

Relationship with outsiders

Scheme members do not have a good working relationship with the RO, as they feel he interferes with their bye laws and overall running of the scheme. The farmers want autonomy in the day to day running of the irrigation scheme and want the Resettlement Officer only to represent them in administrative issues concerning the whole resettlement area. This interference by the Resettlement Officer creates some form of insecurity on the part of the farmers.

Scheme operation, maintenance and management

Irrigation Management Committee

Each of the two blocks has its own IMC, elected on a two-year term basis. This means that blocks A and B are operating as two different entities. The structures of the IMCs for the two blocks are similar. Each of the IMCs is composed of:

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

In addition, under each IMC there are three sub-committees namely the water sub-committee, the production sub-committee and the marketing sub-committee. Members of the IMC can be also be members of one or more of the sub-committees. A common feature in the two block committees is the low representation of women. Only block A has a woman committee member. The farmers explained that the non-involvement of women was due to the fact that women do not vote for each other and men do not want their wives to be seen moving around dealing with other men. Male farmers at the scheme are not gender sensitive, as evidenced by their ability to hold meetings even without women. If female farmers are late for a meeting the meeting commences, but if male farmers are late people have to wait.

The IMC uses a system of bye-laws to run the scheme. Fines are usually levied against those who violate the bye-laws. Sometimes the IMC confiscates the plot of a violator and hands it over to another farmer for one season. The IMC performs a number of functions which include creating linkages between farmers and organizations, such as the Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU), AGRITEX and other government departments. The committee also mobilizes farmers to contribute money for the operation and maintenance of the scheme.

Water Management

Each of the two blocks has its own pumping station. Water for irrigation is released from the dam down to two pick-up weirs, from which it is pumped into the blocks. A water sub-committee, which is in place in each block, is responsible for opening and closing the pump. Irrigation in each block is done according to the irrigation schedules provided by AGRITEX. Farmers agree on the time to start and stop irrigation. Any late comers are not given extra time to irrigate. This is a strategy to control the level of water use and hence energy costs. The water sub-committees are very effective in enforcing the irrigation schedules.

Electricity bills

The IMC for each block collects money for electricity bills at the end of each month. On average each farmer pays Z$ 500 - Z$ 600 per month. Any defaulter will have water supply cut off from his or her plot. It was reported that at least 33% of the farmers usually default on electricity payment per year. Farmers blame this on the poor selection of farmers at the beginning of the irrigation scheme.

Repairs and maintenance

Each farmer is responsible for the repair and maintenance of his or her infield infrastructure. Structures such as the pumping station and conveyance pipeline are managed by farmers as a group. The IMC collects an annual maintenance fee of Z$ 47 per farmer for the repair and maintenance of the shared infrastructure. Farmers are having problems with the repairs and maintenance of their pumps, which were imported from Denmark. Spares are not readily available on the local market.

Institutional support

Principe irrigation scheme receives support from AGRITEX and a village committee.


This institution provides technical advice to the scheme on irrigation water management and irrigated crop agronomy. A full time Extension Worker is responsible for giving the irrigators extension services.

Village committee

There is a local government structure, called a village committee, for the two blocks that operate in parallel with the two IMCs. A village chairperson who is a local government representative heads the village committee. This chairperson is in charge of the farmers as far as dryland cultivation is concerned. The village chairperson has a committee of seven members who are elected by the villagers for a two-year term basis. The committee members under the chairperson are:

  1. Secretary
  2. Member responsible for publicity
  3. Member responsible for security
  4. Treasurer
  5. Two committee members

There is conflict on the roles of the IMC and the village committee. For example, it was highlighted that people often consult the village committee chairperson for matters concerning conflicts in the irrigation scheme. The IMC feels that it should be their duty to resolve conflicts and misunderstandings among the scheme members.

Agricultural performance

Farmers cultivate both their dryland and irrigation plots. Under dryland maize, cotton and groundnuts are grown. The crops usually do very well since the area is a high rainfall region. Yields of as high as 4 tons/ha for maize, 2 tons/ha for groundnuts and 1.5 tons/ha for cotton were reported. The level of inputs used is also on the high side, although this is less than for irrigated crops. Maize and groundnuts are marketed to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), while cotton is sold to the Cotton Company of Zimbabwe, a private cotton buying company. Some maize and groundnuts are retained for subsistence.

In the irrigation scheme farmers grow crops on contract. Tomato is the major crop grown in summer, occupying 50% of the scheme area, the remainder being under maize and baby corn. Tomatoes are grown for Interfresh (a private horticultural export company) and maize is grown for home consumption. Baby corn is grown for Hortico (another private horticultural export company). In winter farmers grow maize and beans. Beans are grown for a private vegetable canning company, Olivine, while green maize is marketed at the farm gate. The main problem farmers face with contract farming is that all their contracts are verbal which make them unbinding. The price is not fixed and at times the companies do not come forward to collect the produce. Sometimes the companies promise to supply inputs but they fail to do so.

Irrigated crop yields are normally high for the good farmers, except on instances when they have pump breakdowns. However yields are also low at the scheme for the poor performing farmers. The range of crop yields obtained for some crops at Principe scheme are presented in Table 38.

Average crop yields at Principe irrigation scheme during the 1997/98 season (Source: Extension Worker's record book.)

Crop Yield (tons/ha)
Maize 1.5 - 5.5
Tomatoes 10 - 20
Beans 0.7 - 1.5
Baby corn 2 - 10

Commercial aspects


Grain maize grown on the scheme is mainly for home consumption. Tomatoes, baby corn and beans are grown on contract for private companies. Green maize is sold on the local market and also at the markets in Bindura and Harare towns. When going to the markets, farmers hire transport as a group. They also market as a group to safeguard themselves against thieves, who are usually scared of approaching people who are in a group.

Inputs acquisition

Inputs are acquired from local dealers, using money generated from the previous season's crop. At the beginning of the scheme, farmers borrowed money from the AFC and they failed to repay back the loan. AFC is no longer willing to provide credit to this group of farmers.


Farmers at the scheme can not manage both their dryland and irrigation plots, because of limited labour resources They tend to hire labour from neighbouring villages. Payment for hired labour is either in kind or cash. Hired labour at Principe scheme is paid Z$ 10 - Z$ 15/day. Some farmers interviewed claimed that they married more than one wife so as to get sufficient labour.

Farm income analysis

Farmers at the scheme are obtaining net incomes that are neither too low nor too high. Net annual incomes for the 1996/97 season ranged from Z$ 6 000 to Z$ 30 000. The incomes are lower than the anticipated net incomes of Z$ 50 000 per farmer per year. However they are still higher than monthly wages paid to unskilled labour in some sectors of the economy. The incomes are lower than expected because of low prices offered by the companies who enter into `contracts' with the farmers. Farmers seem to lack the bargaining power. The energy bill is also considered to be high and as a result the bill is severely reducing the net farm incomes. The low production level by some poorly performing farmers is also responsible for the low income levels.

Financial and economic analysis

Financial and economic analyses of Principe irrigation scheme were conducted at constant 1993 prices. Table 39 gives the financial cash flows and measures of project worthiness. The positive NPV and the FIRR (20%), which is greater than the discount rate of 9.75%, indicate that the project is financially viable. The EIRR at 25% is greater than the opportunity cost of capital (8.5%), indicating that the project is also economically viable.

Socio-economic impact

Principe irrigation scheme can be judged as an average performing scheme whose performance can be improved if its current problems are addressed. The cropping pattern practiced in the irrigation scheme includes high value crops, while dryland plots are put under grain crops of low value. This means that irrigation has permitted the irrigators to grow lucrative crops like baby corn, tomatoes and green maize. Irrigation has permitted these communal farmers to enter into the mainstream economy.

Discounted cash flow analysis for Principe irrigation scheme

Year Investment Costs (Z$) Energy Costs (Z$) Replacement Costs (Z$) Repair & Maintenance Cost (Z$) Extension (Z$) Irrigation Income (Z$) Incremental Benefit (Z$)
1993 233 863           -233 863
1994 233 863 159 144   30 000 75 000 578 704 80 697
1995 233 863 159 144   30 000 75 000 578 704 80 697
1996 233 863 159 144   30 000 75 000 578 704 80 697
1997 233 863 159 144 16 397 30 000 75 000 578 704 64 300
1998 233 863 159 144   30 000 75 000 578 704 80 697
NPV             57 133
FIRR             20%

The cropping intensity in the scheme, which is 200%, is of significance to the farmers. It means that the farmers are occupied throughout the year leaving them with no time to engage in gold panning and animal poaching. Their dryland counterparts in the neighbouring villages are involved in these off-farm activities. This clearly indicates the importance of irrigation in the conservation of environment. The high yields obtained on the scheme, as a result of high level of input use, is a sign that some farmers have developed a commercial mentality. The income farmers are getting from the irrigation scheme is higher than that from off-farm activities. The incomes can be higher if farmers are trained in marketing and contractual agreements. Most farmers interviewed confirmed that the scheme has improved their standard of living. They are able to meet their basic needs from the income derived from the scheme.

The level of literacy on the scheme is high and this was evidenced by the ability of the farmers to record their daily activities and to explain them to visitors. A training programme, organized by AGRITEX on financial management and record keeping, has helped the farmers to be able to keep records. The farmers can compute gross margins and net incomes for their enterprises. They admitted that all this knowledge was gained by working on the irrigation scheme.

Surrounding villagers have found the irrigation scheme as a source of employment. The villagers are employed on the scheme in such activities like weeding, transplanting and harvesting. Hired labour is paid in kind (produce from scheme) and this is important for diet. The number of household heads who work in towns could not be established, but it was indicated to be very small. Farmers indicated that they are comfortable with irrigated farming. Local dealers have benefited a lot from the irrigation scheme. Dealers supply the irrigators with fertilizers and chemicals throughout the year. Dealers interviewed appreciated the role of irrigation in their trading accounts. One dealer ended up saying "If they close down, we also close our businesses". Transport to the markets in Harare and Bindura is usually acquired locally. This form of support for the local transporters is an example of a beneficial linkage, offered by the scheme to other industries.

The scheme farmers operate a savings club and this illustrates that they are an organized group. This group cohesion is also apparent in the payment of electricity bills, collective maintenance of pumps and group marketing. Group initiatives, supported by government institutions, are the vehicle for economic development and Principe scheme fits into this category of projects.


Principe irrigation scheme is an average performing scheme with a mix of good and poor farmers. Several strengths have been identified as working in favour of the scheme and these are:

Secure water supply: Eben Dam, which supplies the scheme, is a secure source of water. There is enough water to allow for the expansion of the scheme. However, leakages at the weir are a problem.

Strong IMC: The IMC is very effective and is involved in creating linkages with organizations, such as ZFU and other government institutions.

Good water management: Although water management can still improve, farmers at this scheme practice good water management. The fact that they pay for the energy costs might be contributing to this.

Contract farming: Farmers grow crops on contract for some horticultural exporting companies. This removes the burden from farmers of seeking for markets. Although prices were reported low at times, farmers are at least assured of a ready market for their produce.

Group cohesion: Farmers at the scheme cooperate on issues such as payment of electricity bills, maintenance of infrastructure and marketing. Although some farmers default, bye-laws are in place to deal with that.

Some weaknesses were also identified on Principe irrigation scheme and these are:

High energy bills: Some farmers find it difficult to pay the monthly energy costs, because they are too high.

No stand by pump: There is a single imported pump for each block. This means that during breakdowns, which are increasing with time, there is no stand by pump to fall back on. If the breakdown period is long a crop can be lost due to lack of irrigation.

Cash flow problems: Some farmers are experiencing cash flow problems, resulting in low input use, and some farmers are defaulting on electricity and maintenance bills.

Poor marketing strategies: The fact that farmers are involved in contract marketing is not enough evidence that farmers are competent in marketing. Knowledge of how to draw up favourable contracts and the implications of contract farming is low among the farmers.

Interference from government officials: The effectiveness of the IMC is being weakened by interference in the running of the scheme from the District Council and the Resettlement Officer. For example, the reallocation of plots is done by the Resettlement Officer without consulting the farmers. Farmers allege that replacement candidates who are given plots by the Resettlement Officer are normally not good farmers and they are usually the ones who default on the payment of electricity bills. Farmers suspected corruption in the reallocation of plots.

Lack of coordination among institutions: Farmers are not clear of the role of AGRITEX, the Resettlement Officer and the District Council on the running of the scheme. Farmers are not sure which organization to approach on what problems.

Lack of other services: Farmers complained of the lack of other essential services, such as a clinic and a school. Farmers travel a distance of 22 km to the nearest clinic.

Ownership of scheme: Farmers are not clear on the ownership of the scheme, since they always receive threats of eviction from AGRITEX and the Resettlement Officer.

Several recommendations, based on the findings at Principe scheme, can be made for the future planning of smallholder irrigation projects. The following are some of them:

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