Mabasa solar plant in Gwanda

Gwanda District is one of the driest areas in Zimbabwe. The district is in farming natural region 5 of the country and receives very little rainfall. As such the people in Gwanda have always been hit by severe droughts and hunger. The 2015/16 agricultural season was bad for the farmers as most parts of the country received very low rainfall. Things are beginning to change for smallholder farmers who have always struggled to survive in the harsh environment. Despite low rainfall in the areas,villagers  in various wards in Gwanda are now smiling all the way to their gardens, thanks to the Trocaire and Jersey Overseas Aid Commission (JOAC) funded solar powered garden projects being implemented by Practical Action in wards 6,7,8,9,13 and 14 in Gwanda. Janet Moyo (54), a vegetable and maize farmer in Sibula village, Gwanda ward 8 thanked Practical action for implementing such a project. In Janet’s words,“This place is dry and water is a challenge for instance,we have not yet received any rains since October, but thanks to the solar powered garden projects,we are now smiling all the way to our gardens.This project came as a miracle to us”. Janet also noted that most farmers are now able to sell their excess crops such as  leafy vegetables,tomatoes,green mealies  to other people in their communities as well as other neighbouring communities. Masotsha Leslie Tshalibe (60),chairman of the Matshokodo solar powered garden,says the project transformed the lives of people in Gwanda,“The solar powered projects by Trocaire and JOAC being implemented by Practical Action in different parts of Gwanda transformed the lives of most people, the projects enable families to increase food security and income generation”. Tshalibe added,”the projects have also improved access to clean water as submersible pumps are buried in dry river beds and they tap directly from the water table.The water is clean and safe for household use”. Lack of water due to climate change has affected most parts of the country resulting in most fields in Gwanda not being tilled. It is only those using the solar irrigation system who can boast of having crops in their gardens.Various horticulture crops which include rape, tomatoes, maize and onions just to mention a few are now being grown in these gardens.

“With the solar technology we no longer need to wait for the much needed rains for our crops. As you can see, by this time of the year, we are supposed to be receiving rains,but due to climate change, rain patterns have completely changed and temperatures have also increased ”,said Mthulisi Bhebhe a farmer at Matshokodo garden in ward 8.

The change has been brought about by two projects.The Increasing Food Security and Resilience to Climate  Shocks project funded by UKAid through Trocaire and Increasing Food Security for Poor Vulnerable Households in Gwanda District of Zimbabwe project funded by JOAC. The projects seek to increase food security and resilience to climate  shocks in Gwanda district.The projects have also improved access to water, diversified income sources for improved livelihoods of smallholder farmers and while enhancing food production capacity for smallholder farmers through use of more climate resilient agricultural strategies.

The project has overseen the installation of nine  solar gardens (five under Troicaire funding which will benefit 250 small scale farmers whilst three have been installed under JOAC funding benefiting 80  direct small scale farmers). These solar pumps mean that the community members are able to water their gardens even during the dry season.

The technology includes a solar pump, complete with panels, 10,000 litre 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.

“The pump is buried in the sand and is tapping from the water table. Even if the rains are not enough to flood the river, we are safe because we are depending on the water table. Each household has two long vegetable beds and two long maize beds measuring 1x12metres each. This is the first year and in the next three years we will be bigger,” Mthulisi Bhebhe added. Prior to this farmers used to use water from the rivers and  wells which the farmers would dig and use to irrigate their garden vegetable. If ever the nation wants to attain sustainable agriculture, renewable energy is the way to go solar and agriculture connection is a true solution.

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