For Kelebone Ndlovu, a farmer in the Mankonkoni area, Gwanda South constituency, winning in the 2019 national irrigation competition was quite unimaginable.
For years, she thought winning was for those in regions with better rains and established irrigation schemes.
To her surprise, Mankonkoni Irrigation Scheme, rehabilitated with the support of development partners and the Government, was adjudged third best in the 2019 National Irrigation Competition.
All this was largely thanks to the availability of solar energy from the Mashaba mini-grid.
Ndlovu and 30 other members of the scheme were now among the 10 000 people benefiting from Zimbabwe's first solar-powered mini-grid in Gwanda District, giving farmers a much cheaper and reliable energy source.
The Mashaba solar-powered mini-grid was funded through a four-year 7, 1 million euro project for Zimbabwe and Malawi under the European Development Fund (EDF), the main instrument for European Union (EU) aid for development cooperation in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific (ACP Group) countries.
The project was implemented by a consortium of NGOs with Practical Action as the lead partner supported by SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, Hivos and the Dabane Trust.
This project, which was funded to the tune of 2,7 million euros, seeks to help the local community to survive droughts, enhance food security and improve livelihoods through connecting them to the Mashaba solar-powered mini-grid.
"I am so excited to have come third in the National Irrigation Competition," Ndlovu said.
"We came first at district level and number two at provincial level. All this is due to our unity, hard work and dedication.
"I wish to thank our Government, Practical Action and our main donor partners, the EU."
She said the secret to the success of the irrigation scheme was unity, common understanding, commitment and willingness to learn.
Despite erratic rains, the scheme has a good maize and groundnut crop as well as watermelons.
The irrigation scheme had become derelict by 2010 before it was rehabilitated over the past three years.
The irrigation schemes competition is organised by the Government every year.
All irrigation schemes which are 10 hectares or larger are considered for the competition.
Insukamini Irrigation Scheme in Vungu District in the Midlands came first, while Siyaleme in Bindura in Mashonaland Central Province was second.
Innocent Katsande, a communications specialist for Practical Action, said the winning of the coveted prize by Mankonkoni Irrigation Scheme was clear proof that access to solar energy remained key in the revival of irrigation schemes.
"Irrigation is very important in cushioning farmers against the impact of climate change," he said.
"With solar energy we are very sure that farmers are no longer at the mercy of costly and unsustainable diesel fuels and the vagaries of unpredictable seasons.
Adjudicators looked at a number of issues to come up with the overall winner.
Issues examined included levels of production, leadership and management, water and soil husbandry, repair and maintenance of infrastructure on site, security set-up and record-keeping.
In addition, the panel of judges looked at the marketing strategy, health and hygiene as well as how the scheme managed its relations within the community.
With better access to renewable energy, inputs and agricultural extension knowledge, the scheme had succeeded in boosting its functional capacity.
Members now have improved incomes, food and nutrition security.
"Unity and understanding are key to our survival as a scheme," said Lydia Ncube, a kraal head and member of the scheme.
"With better access to solar energy, inputs and farming knowledge, particularly markets, we can grow and be able to feed not only the district but the whole nation."
At present, the Mashaba mini-grid provided power to a radius of up to 25km helping to boost economic activities in three irrigation schemes -- Mankonkoni, Sebasa, Rustlers' Gorge -- as well as Mashaba and Msendami business centres, and Mashaba Clinic and Mashaba Primary School.
The revival of the schemes faced viability problems due to constant power outages and lack of diesel .
Gwanda District is prone to droughts and improved access to power will lead to increased resilience, enhanced food security and better adaptation to climate change.
The availability of power will also opens doors to improved access to markets, better extension service and agricultural information and finance.