7 December 2012

Zimbabwe: 'Prioritise Irrigated Agriculture in Zim'

A senior government official has said government should prioritise irrigation which has helped increase agricultural production in most developing countries.

Speaking at the launch of the Irrigation Technology Transfer between Bauer Group and Ferro Irrigation Systems in Harare, Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development secretary, Ngoni Masoka said irrigation was a technological option for agricultural development of the sub-Saharan Africa as it is for the tropics.

Masoka said rain-fed agriculture was still very important in sub-Saharan Africa but recent droughts meant that it was no longer dependable.

Nearly 65 percent of all land in sub-Saharan Africa is arid or semi-arid, but less than three percent of the land (except in two countries) is under irrigation.

Masoka said in many parts of Africa, agro-ecological systems are characterised by recurring drought events, soil degradation and water supply shortages.

"Analysis of the impacts of climate change suggests that agro-ecological systems are the most vulnerable sectors. Agriculture in low latitude developing countries is expected to be especially vulnerable because climates of many of these countries are already too hot.

"Further warming is consequently expected to reduce crop productivity adversely. These effects are exacerbated by the fact that agriculture and agro-ecological systems are especially prominent in the economies of African countries and the systems tend to be less capital and technology intensive. Predictions of impacts across regions consequently suggest large changes in the agricultural systems of low latitude (mostly 'developing) countries," he added.

Reasons cited for the relatively low rate of irrigation development in sub-Saharan Africa include high cost of irrigation development; inadequate physical infrastructure and markets; poor investments in irrigation; lack of access to improved irrigation technologies; and lack of cheap and readily available water supplies.

Studies carried out on irrigation development in sub-Saharan Africa during the last two decades indicate that, among others, lack of access to affordable and water saving irrigation technologies, particularly by small-scale farmers, was a major constraint to irrigation development including the lack of local capacity for manufacturing irrigation equipment and providing services had severely handicapped small-scale irrigation development.

"Rehabilitation and/or modernisation of existing irrigation schemes through the provision of improved diversion structures, proper canal and drainage systems as well as water flow control structures such as checks, offtakes and gates, will improve efficiency of irrigation and water productivity. Coupled with improved market facilities, these improvements can contribute to successful irrigation schemes," Masoka said.

Irrigated agriculture has driven much of the increase in global food production over recent decades. While only 20 percent of the world's farmland is irrigated, the highest yields obtained from irrigation are more than double the highest yields from rain-fed agriculture in Zimbabwe at the moment.

The food and agriculture organisation estimates that global agriculture yields will fall by up to 30 percent in year 2050 due to the worsening impact of climate change, this means future efforts to acquire grain from world markets may be very difficult for countries that fail to produce enough on their own.

"Local climate and weather patterns have been changing over the years and yet most farmers and government remain ill prepared. However with this technological advancement from Bauer backed by clearly defined national strategies, long term climate projects may become a real possibility, hence our vision to be factored into every government programme that concerns agriculture, Ferro Irrigation Systems chairman Joseph Sanhanga said.

Ferro Irrigation is the sole agent for BAUER irrigation technology in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.

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