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Zimbabwe Farmers Fight Poverty With Water

By Kim Pozniak

Recurrent drought and dry spells in Zimbabwe's southern Bulilima district used to make farming a daily struggle. Inadequate rains meant most farmers produced just enough to feed their families. Having a surplus of crops to sell at market was out of the question.

Beauty Tshuma working her fields

Thanks to a rehabilitated irrigation canal, Beauty Tshuma can now plant and harvest enough crops to sell in local markets. Photo by Kim Pozniak/CRS

An irrigation canal built to bring water from a nearby dam to farmers' plots in the district's Moza community had been in disrepair for years. Water leaked out in so many places that not enough water actually reached the fields.

"Before the canal was rehabilitated, it was hard to get water to our plots," says Beauty Tshuma, one of more than 100 farmers with fields around the crumbling Moza community irrigation canal. "Our crops would all die."

Standing in the field she's owned for nearly a decade—and where she now grows sugar beans, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and other vegetables—Beauty had one wish: "I hoped that the canals would be repaired so that all farmers would benefit equally."

Relying on Fickle Rains

Her prayer was answered in September 2011. Catholic Relief Services, in collaboration with partner Organization of Rural Associations for Progress, or ORAP, repaired the worn-out irrigation system in Bulilima courtesy of the PRIZE—Promoting Recovery in Zimbabwe—project. PRIZE is a consortium of several organizations led by CRS and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development that addresses food scarcity among vulnerable families.

The majority of farmers in Zimbabwe rely on the weather for their water supply. When rains fail, many smallholder farmers can't produce enough and are plunged deeper into hunger and poverty. PRIZE addresses the root causes of poverty so that farming families aren't threatened by chronic food shortages.

PRIZE Project Successes

  • The Promoting Recovery in Zimbabwe, or PRIZE, project has created and rehabilitated 15 water-delivery structures, such as irrigation canals, for crop production in the Bulilima district in Zimbabwe.
  • More than 869 farmers—65 percent of them women—now irrigate their crops, which translates into improved access to food and cash.
  • Nearly 470 farmers trained in the "farming as a business" concept through this project are now accessing better markets and earning more income through sales.
  • In the Moza community, the new irrigation infrastructure has allowed farmers to water close to 309 acres of land.

In Moza, repaired canals mean enough water despite a poor rainy season. Water flows steadily through a 1.8-mile-long canal, and farmers use short hoses to siphon the water at every turn to irrigate their fields.

Introducing Business Principles to Farmers

Through PRIZE, 137 farmers in Moza—mostly women—benefit from the improved canal and are now familiar with the concept of "farming as a business." With this knowledge, farmers not only produce for their own consumption but identify crops with market demand. Selling these crops in local markets improves their cash flow and resistance to future crises, such as drought. Farmers who traditionally were able to grow only maize and wheat can now plant cash crops like cucumbers, green peppers, tomatoes, butternut squash, garlic and cabbage, considerably cutting down the time from planting to harvest.

"We've also implemented the farmer-to-farmer extension concept around the Moza community," says Brilliant Nkomo, who coordinates the monitoring and evaluation of CRS PRIZE efforts. "Farmers take the 'farming as a business' concept…and subsequently teach other farmers how to market their crops and access markets."

For Beauty, having improved irrigation means she is now able to sell her butternut squash to local supermarkets. She can afford to send her four children to school and even owns livestock.

"I can now realize some profit from selling my crops," she says with a broad smile. "Before, I didn't even think about approaching markets. I take the 'farming as a business' concept very seriously."

Kim Pozniak is a CRS communications officer covering sub-Saharan Africa. She is based in Baltimore, Maryland.

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