Masvingo — Government is giving high priority to the construction of Runde-Tende Dam in southern Masvingo, with Vice President Constantino Chiwenga saying the project would give impetus to the ongoing expansion of the winter maize project to engender food security.
The dam, to be built at the confluence of Runde and Tende rivers in southern Chivi has been on the cards for many years and is expected to cost nearly US$400 million.
With a capacity more than twice that of Tugwi-Mukosi Dam, it will irrigate more than 30 000 hectares that will turn arid parts of Matibi 2, Mwenezi and Chiredzi into perennial greenbelts.
Speaking during a seed maize field day at Mwenezana Estates in Mwenezi on Wednesday, VP Chiwenga said building of the water body would augment irrigation water in dams across Masvingo, which currently has potential to sustain 10 000ha of winter maize annually.
"The province has high irrigation potential to expand the winter maize programme more so if Runde-Tende has been built, which we have given high priority."
VP Chiwenga said with more dams, especially Runde-Tende, Masvingo could be the country's anchor in the fight to mitigate effects of climate change.
"I am happy to note that the province has many irrigation schemes such as Manyuchi, Stanmore, Mushandike, Lauder, Ruti, Chipisa and the near awakening giant, Tugwi-Mukosi project, which will change the fortunes this province and Zimbabwe at large."
Masvingo, VP Chiwenga said, could expand growing of other crops beyond winter maize such as sugar cane, citrus and Lucerne grass using its irrigation potential as home to the country's two largest inland water bodies, Tugwi-Mukosi and Lake Mutirikwi.
Agriculture, Lands, Water and Rural Resettlement Minister Perrance Shiri also underscored the importance of the planned Runde-Tende, saying the dam would be a game changer for Masvingo.
"The planned Runde-Tende Dam will be two and half times bigger than Tugwi-Mukosi which is now the largest inland water body in Zimbabwe. Runde-Tende will be used on vast tracts of virgin land in parts of Mwenezi, Chiredzi and Chivi for irrigation, creating a greenbelt in this whole area," he said.
Minister Shiri urged farmers to take advantage of various programmes introduced by President Mnangagwa's administration to stimulate growth of the agricultural sector and the national economy.
Meanwhile, VP Chiwenga assured the Chilonga community in northern Chikombedzi that Government will consult them in the implementation of a lucerne grass project that will straddle nearly 10 000ha in the area.
VP Chiwenga said this while addressing people gathered at Chilonga Business Centre on Wednesday, after an aerial tour of Chilonga Irrigation Scheme and part of the area earmarked for the Lucerne grass project.
Chilonga Irrigation Scheme has not been operational since 2016, after a pump broke down.
The Chilonga area is also earmarked for a multi-million Lucerne grass project by Kwekwe-based milk processor Dendairy, which will grow the grass for export ,with locals are set to be contracted as out-growers.
However, there has been concerns that locals would be displaced from their ancestral land once the grass project takes off.
VP Chiwenga said Government wanted a win-win scenario between the Chilonga people and the Lucerne grass investor.
He assured the Chilonga community that the mothballed irrigation scheme will be functional by August this year.
"What has brought all of us here (Chilonga Business Centre) is the issue of the stomach, feeding the stomach through revival our irrigation scheme which last functioned in 2016. We have visited the site of the pump station nearby and there is nothing that will stop water from being pumped into the fields by August this year," said VP Chiwenga.
"We have agreed that by the time we celebrate Heroes Day this year, water should be flowing into your fields because the thrust we have as Government is to use all our water bodies to produce food under irrigation."
He said a team comprising Ministers Shiri, July Moyo, Ezra Chadzamira and representatives from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development would soon visit Chilonga again to reach consensus with locals on the grass project.
He underscored the importance of unity, saying the grass project will only successfully take off if all stakeholders pulled in the same direction. The Lucerne grass project at Chilonga is billed to bring modernity to the rural heartland of Chikombedzi, with new roads and a railway line among some of the spin-offs expected.