The climate in Gwanda is referred to as a local steppe type of weather. During the year there is little rainfall averaging 477mm, with an average annual temperature of 19.9 °C. Such climatic conditions have affected the food security for most smallholder farmers in this area as they rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. Due to lack of water, most farmers were using watering buckets to irrigate their gardens. Typically done by the women in the community, this tiring task involved carrying of the buckets on head tops from down the river to the uplands where the crop gardens are located. Quite labour intensive and energy demanding. Furthermore, manual watering is no only a labor-intensive practice but wastefull as the water tends to be poured on the crop beds in an unprecise manner. This, is also reduces productivity as crop performance tends to be low since pouring washes away some critical nutrients from the crop vicinity . This has a negative bearing on the overal profitability. Using these methods also force women to travel long distances to fetch water.
In 2014 Practical Action with funding from UKAid through Trócaire introduced a project code-named “Increasing Food Security and Resilience to Climate Shocks” in Gwanda, Matabeleland province of Zimbabwe. Practical Action and Trocaire identified existing gardens managed by women, who relied on traditional, as well as inefficient flood irrigation methods to irrigate their crops.
With a tune of £201 043.00 funding, the project installed a solar-powered irrigation system for six community gardens. The technology includes a solar pump, 100Watts 36volts panels, 10 000 liter tanks complete with tank stands and drip kits. A solar-powered submersible pump submerged in the river bed pumps water into a big tank. The farmers then irrigate their crops using water from the storage tank. When water levels are at their peak, they normally pump for 3 hours to fill the 10 000 litre tank. So it means the systems could pump more if there were more storage facilities because much of the time the system will be switched off. It takes up to 6 hours during the drier months of a dry year for example around October 2016, while in a wet year such as 2017 it still takes 3 hours to fill the tanks as the water table will be high. These systems were installed to support averages of 1ha gardens per given site. Thus each garden was equipped with a drip irrigation system for 0.5 ha and tape system to supply surface water through drag hose system.
The gardens are community owned and each household owns 4 beds measuring 1m by 12m long. The community members provided labour for trenching and excavation into the silted river bed. Project garden committees were trained to do basic maintenance to ensure sustainability of the project. Members also pay a maintenance fee each month and this varies from garden to garden.
The project enhanced food security for 180 HH translating to 720 smallholder farmers in the area. The project is also fighting malnutrition. Farmers in Gwanda are now producing crops throughout the year. During the 2015/16 agriculture season, highly characterised by severe drought, farmers managed to produce and sell vegetables. This enhanced their resilience to the food shortages that prevailed as these producers could afford to buy grain from garden sales. The use of solar powered irrigation has maximised use of available water.
“I have never had such harvest in all my farming life. I never thought we could have a greenbelt in this area, I am so grateful this solar technology has indeed transformed our lives”, said Ester Gadzikwa a farmer in ward 8.
Increased income and nutrition
The project has also provided significant source of income for farmers. “Failing to earn a dollar a day is sinning against yourself, thanks to the project. The income I am getting from selling produce from the garden has transformed my life and that of my family” said Nyaradzai Khumalo.
Farmers are now able to produce green vegetables and meet the market demand. This has increased their incomes. On average, most farmers earn US$100-150. To effectively manage their gardens as business units, the farmers received intensive business management trainings which included aspects of financial management and market engagements. Farmers have organised marketing committees which have been trained in financial literacy and markets engagement.
Throughout the project, there was active and continual engagement of stakeholders at the district level. Farmers acknowledged receiving farming inputs such as seeds as a start-up capital. In addition, they also received training and knowledge from Practical Action on agronomic practices (such as crop rotation, drip irrigation, use of organic matter and manure) related to the crops above and this enabled the community to work together in the project. The use of solar for pumping helped in reducing drudgery amongst the plot holders while the use of drip came as a handy option for saving the scarce commodity for the region “water”, and at the same time reducing the labour to convey water to the crop fields .
The project was a good opportunity to increase food security in Gwanda. Unfortunately achieving 100% increase on food security was disturbed when some of the solar panels and pumps were destroyed by heavy rains. Another key lesson learned following the declining water table experienced during the period October –November 2016. was that there is need to consider use of solar-powered boreholes as sources of water in the country`s driest areas.
This project has helped communities to fight climate change. It has also managed to reduce labour requirements for watering, thus, allowing women to do other household chores. Smallholder farmers in the area especially women are now fully engaged in horticulture value chains which have quick turnaround enabling them quick access to cash to address urgent needs. Drip irrigation enhances water use efficiency; therefore, allowing crop production throughout the year. The technology has proved to be cheaper for small-scale women farmers in the long run as there are no monthly electricity or fuels costs.