MORE than half of Zimbabwe’s irrigable land is underutilised due to dilapidated state-owned irrigation equipment, posing a threat to the country’s food security, a study by the Auditor-General has revealed.
By Hazel Ndebele
Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of the region, has been reduced to a basket case following a chaotic agrarian reform programme which disrupted commercial agricultural production and rendered the land unbankable.
According to a 2016 performance report by Auditor-General Mildred Chiri on the management of irrigation schemes, agriculture, once the backbone of the economy, is not realising its full potential due to a shortage of mechanised equipment. The report further showed that 56% of irrigable land is underutilised.
The study was necessitated by an outcry from Zimbabweans over the collapse of most irrigation schemes. The few that remain operational are facing a plethora of challenges.
Irrigation schemes which were managed by the department of irrigation development under the ministry of Agriculture were meant to augment natural rainfall to curb food shortages and ensure food security.
Irrigation schemes, according to the report, collapsed due to lack of monitoring, dilapidated infrastructure as well as poor performance by contractors among other factors.
“The assessment of the department of Irrigation Development’s management of irrigation schemes revealed a number of weaknesses which contributed to the underutilisation of irrigable land,” the report read.
“It was noted through documentary reviews of project files for 69 irrigation schemes that only 4 273 hectares (44%) out of a total of 9 741 hectares of developed irrigable land was under irrigation.”
The report shows that 56% of irrigable land which was developed to contribute towards ensuring the country’s food security ended up lying idle due to inadequacies in the department of Irrigation Development’s management of the irrigation schemes.
The department, according to the findings of the report, was also embarking on new construction or rehabilitation projects before completing ongoing ones, resulting in many uncompleted and non-functional projects which in the end defeated the purpose for which land was developed.
It report also revealed that there is no monitoring and evaluation of the irrigation schemes, resulting in the department being unable to assess the relevance and fulfilment of irrigation objectives.
“There was no evidence that the department did monitoring and evaluation of irrigation schemes. According to interviews with Provincial Engineers, they cited transport as the major challenge hindering monitoring and evaluation of the schemes,” the report reads.
“Contractors were not performing well on the works that they were contracted to do which resulted in delays in the completion of rehabilitation or construction as some of the works had to be redone.”
The report recommends that Treasury timeously avail funding to the department of irrigation to boost the prospects for agricultural development.
The auditor-general noted that the country’s water reservoirs needed urgent attention to ensure that irrigation programmes are successful.
“All 13 schemes visited had cracked and hanging canals due to eroded embankments and in some cases trees had grown on the canal embankments. This resulted in the department being unable to assess the relevance and fulfilment of irrigation objectives,” the report reads.
“The issues raised were very material in that they sought to ensure national food security, create revenue generation opportunities for the country and also reduce the national unemployment rate.”