George Maponga — Masvingo Bureau
In the south eastern fringes of the perennially drought-stricken Gororo communal lands in Chivi, lies a vast mass of fresh water, dammed at the confluence of Tugwi and Mukosi rivers.
The fresh water mass had been building up for years, consuming swathes of fertile plains on both sides of the twin rivers that are tributaries of Zimbabwe's largest interior water body, Lake Tugwi-Mukosi or simply Tugwi-Mukosi Dam.
Inaugurated in May 2017 after a painstaking more than 15 years of construction, the concrete-faced rock fill dam in February this year hogged the limelight after its historic inaugural spilling.
The water body spilled for the first time after impounding enough "vomit" from Tugwi and Mukosi rivers upstream in the wake of heavy rains that pounded most parts of Zimbabwe.
The spilling was ominous and a harbinger of good times for the country within the agricultural sphere, considering that Tugwi-Mukosi has a full capacity of 1,8 billion cubic metres of water.
Prior to the unprecedented and epochal spilling, the water body had since its commissioning barely breached the 80 percent full capacity mark.
This made the dam's first spilling a historic milestone that will have a domino effect on the nation's agricultural landscape.
Tugwi-Mukosi at full capacity creates many windows of opportunity in the sphere of irrigation development in the Lowveld where Government has already set in motion plans to create a vast greenbelt to under gird the nation's drive towards food sufficiency.
Swathes of idle and fertile land stretching from Mwenezi to the west to Chikombedzi to the south east lie in wait to ambush Tugwi-Mukosi water to irrigate part of the targeted over 200 000ha earmarked under the Lowveld greenbelt.
Tugwi-Mukosi's strategic location enables it to supply irrigation water via gravity through the Tugwi and Runde river systems, making it easy for vast swathes of land, starting from Chivi, Mwenezi to Matibi 2, to be irrigable.
This abundance of land for irrigation also brings to the fore the need for investment in the bigger Runde-Tende Dam, a future project planned at the confluence of Runde and Tende rivers to the south-western tip of Chivi.
However, national focus at the moment should be transfixed on the overflowing and hitherto underutilised Tugwi-Mukosi Dam to be the launch pad of an irrigation development torpedo that will confine the nation's food deficit problems to the past.
Zimbabwe can make Tugwi-Mukosi Dam its pith and mainstay of a vigorous onslaught to make the country a net food exporter in line with Vision 2030.
The dam's historic spilling marks a watershed in the history of irrigation development in Zimbabwe.
Water collected in Tugwi-Mukosi at the moment can last three good seasons irrigating existing cane fields in the Lowveld, according to agricultural experts.
In a world grappling with the effects of climate change, a resource in the mould of Tugwi-Mukosi should be expediently deployed to serve as the arrowhead of the country's irrigation development plan.
Irrigation development to produce citrus, cereals, traditional grains and expand existing sugar cane plantations in the Lowveld can also create scope for opening agro-processing industries which in turn will precipitate urbanisation with potential to create a conurbation from Chisumbanje in the east to Mwenezi in the south.
This also dovetails with Government's modernisation agenda as more investments will come to the Lowveld as the new-found hub of exporting agricultural produce.
Masvingo Provincial Agritex officer Mr Aaron Muchazivepi pointed out that Tugwi-Mukosi Dam was a potential game changer for Masvingo in the sphere of agriculture and irrigation.
This was corroborated by Masvingo Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution Ezra Chadzamira, who said efforts to engender food security in the province were hinged on Tugwi-Mukosi.
Minister Chadzamira noted the dam could ignite an agricultural revolution in the Lowveld, with massive socio-economic benefits for the province and the nation at large.
He said the historic spilling of the dam was a boon for irrigation development as the nation scrambles all its water bodies to cut the food import bill.
"We are happy that for the first time since its completion, Tugwi-Mukosi Dam spilled this year, meaning a lot of water was collected to support our irrigation development thrust to produce enough food for our people and for export," said Minister Chadzamira.
"Availability of enough water in Tugwi-Mukosi and other dams that can supply the Lowveld means there is scope to open more virgin land to irrigation not only producing food, but creating jobs and income for our people.
"This is what President Mnangagwa and his administration want to see -- full exploitation of locally available resources to steer socio-economic development."
Minister Chadzamira exhorted authorities to expedite drawing of the Tugwi-Mukosi irrigation development master plan to allow investment in irrigation to start.
The master plan will designate land that will be opened to irrigation using Tugwi-Mukosi water from Chivi district right up to Matibi 2 in southern Chikombedzi.
Minister Chadzamira noted that Masvingo was headed for exciting times in the sphere of agriculture, saying full exploitation of Tugwi-Mukosi water will have multiplier effects on the provincial and national economies.
This, he added, will jolt Government and the private sector to quickly scout for resources to build Runde-Tende Dam to create an expansive greenbelt across the length and breadth of the Lowveld.
With enough water to last the nation a good three season in terms of irrigation water, the onus is now on government and the private sector to see how best Tugwi-Mukosi's water can be harnessed for large scale irrigation development that will make the Lowveld the heartbeat of the nation's food security support system.
The planned lucerne grass growing project in Chikombedzi owes currency to Tugwi-Mukosi, with irrigation water supplied to Masivamele and Chilonga via Tugwi and Runde river systems, downstream of the dam.
This means at its present full capacity, Tugwi-Mukosi has the keys to unlock and kick-start an ambitious irrigation development programme that will have a huge bearing on the national economy in line with Vision 2030 of achieving an upper middle income status.