16 February 2013

Zambia: Tapping Zambia's Irrigation Potential


DO we all know the value of water to our well-being? They say water is life, indeed it is. Over 70 per cent of our body weight is water.

Take a minute and think what your weight will be if all the water in your body was drained.

I weigh 76 kilogrammes and if all the water was to be drained, my weight will not be any more than 20 kilogrammes.

Water is not only important to our bodies but it is also important for plant life including crops.

In fact, nothing will grow without water. In 1992/3 planting season, Zambia experienced one of the worst droughts and the country had a food deficit. The Government then which had just been voted into power brought relief food in form of yellow maize popularly known as Scott because the Agriculture minister then was Dr Guy Scott (our Vice -President now).

What we should know is that we shall have such a drought again in future. Zambia should be a country that shouldn't worry whether we have a drought because we have adequate water to produce maize, wheat, soya beans, and other crops to feed the whole Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.

As a matter of fact, our country is a source of 40 per cent of water found in the SADC region. Coupled with water, we have adequate good arable land.

Why then should we be at the mercy of the Nimbus clouds every year? The secret lies in how we have valued water harvesting, management and irrigation.

Out of the irrigable potential we have, the country utilises less than 5 per cent of irrigable land.

Several millions of liters that collect and run across the length and breadth of this country find itself in the Indian Ocean.

It beats me to comprehend the fact that Lusaka town, the capital city which is just about 50 kilometres away from the Kafue River, one of the major rivers in Zambia doesn't even have water to drink.

What is the biggest problem then? We haven't tapped the abundant potential that the country has.

Sometimes I feel that when you have too much of anything, you seem to tend to think that you will keep enjoying the availability of that resource forever.

Egypt, Israel, and other semi-arid countries have managed their water resource so much that we rarely hear of them importing corn or wheat from other countries.

One might think that it's only in agriculture, but even in mining; we have been a mining giant in Africa for over sixty years, but we don't have any secondary industry that uses copper products.

We have allowed ourselves to be consumers of expensive finished products from our own raw materials like computers, cell phones and many others.

It is disheartening that we are even importing cornflakes from a country like South Africa which didn't have a good maize harvest last season.

We should utilise the irrigation potential that this country has. Imagine, there are a couple of dams that the government had constructed in all the provinces but little of that harnessed water is used for irrigation.

If we take an inventory of farmers that are practicing irrigation (out of the five per cent) 90 per cent of them are foreigners that settled in areas around Chisamba, Kabwe, Mkushi, and the Southern Province.

Imagine, we are even failing to grow onions when we are seeing truckloads of onions coming from South Africa and Tanzania pounding our roads that we build at our own cost when we can produce these products easily in our beautiful country.

I do not want to go to electricity generation because that is a total disaster. Thousands of hectoliters are released every March from our Kariba and Itezhi tezhi dams as though we can't use that water.

May be we need to send a team to go and learn from how our friends in Egypt and Netherlands have managed their water resource.

To irrigate our fields (Dimbas), we don't need sophisticated equipment like centre pivots that have been installed on commercial farms, but we can use simple 'shadof' like equipment being promoted by various companies like Saro, Camco and many others.

We need to harness the irrigation potential that this country has if we are to economically develop our country.

If we do this, we shall be effectively utilising our land and we shall be having more money in our pockets.

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