NDANGWA MWITTAH, Siavonga
THERE is a common Tonga saying: “Atika meenda aatakwe buyoleke,” (Once water spills you cannot gather it again).
This saying is loosely translated as: “When something bad happens, it is not reversible.”
For centuries, the Tonga speaking people have occupied both banks of the Zambezi River, from Kariba Gorge to Devil’s Gorge upstream, in what was known as the Gwembe Valley; calling themselves ‘Basilwizi’ ( people of the river).
They are said to have lived in relative peace, sharing cultures and languages, with very little outside influence.
Their only contact with humankind is believed to have been limited to prospectors, hunters, surveyors and the settlers’ district commissioners.
The escarpments, at over 60 metres high, created effective barriers from outside intrusions.
Little did they actually know that soon, their lives were going to change, forever.
This time came in the mid- 1950’s, when the decision to construct the Kariba Dam wall was made by the then Rhodesian governments.
Although not very populous, nonetheless, it is estimated that about 150, 000 people lived in the area.
Among those that were displaced were Lenard Kandela’s parents.
At that time, Lenard, now 61, married to two wives and blessed with 15 children, was only two years old.
But he remembers.
“We have been here since 1957 from the dam area where we were displaced from to pave way for the construction of the Kariba dam,” he says.
From the stories he was told by his late parents, life in the valley, before being relocated to where they are now, in Siavonga’s Lusitu area was very good.
“We had a lot of water there and we could grow literally anything all year round,” he says.
That is what many people miss about the Kariba dam area.
It had abundant water to accommodate all their farming needs.
Not Lusitu, their new home.
“This is a drought-prone area. All of us here rely on farming for our livelihoods,” he says.
He adds that farming in the area is always hard because of the bad weather conditions and also the terrain.
“When it comes to soil fertility, the soils are perfect and conducive to grow a wide range of crops,” he says.
It is for this reason that Government, with support from the World Bank, is implementing a US$4.5 million irrigation development project that is expected to change the scenario.
“Poverty is not good. This irrigation scheme will benefit a lot of us here because we put in so much to farm around this area,” he says.
Mr Kandela has a generator and an engine that he uses to pump water to irrigate his farm.
“Some people don’t have these things and it is very costly because it is not all the time that you can have these things,” he says.
He says at one point, he had over 40 cattle, but none is left now.
“The only things I have at the moment are goats and chickens,” he says. Some of his cattle either died from cattle disease or were sold to finance other projects.
However, he stands to benefit from the irrigation scheme that is under construction.
According to chief engineer on site, Abedinego Chalikosa, the US$4.5 million investment project will be in use by November this year.
The project is being constructed by Savenda Management Services, which is working hard to complete the job on schedule.
“Initially, we were supposed to be done by January this year, but [there are] challenges such as weather and also the construction of the 114 houses for those that were moved from the site where we are setting up,” says Mr Chalikosa.
The project is an initiative of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Irrigation Development and Support Programme (IDSP) and is located on the left bank of the Zambezi River, downstream of the Kariba dam, about 15 kilometres south of Chirundu.
Close to 4,000 people in the drought-prone area stand to benefit from it.
“What we are basically trying to do is give an opportunity to people to have access to water throughout the year. We are going to pump water from the Zambezi River, that doesn’t run dry,” he says.
According to research findings by the Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute (IAPRI), for the past decade, over 50 percent of the agricultural budget has been spent on maize input and output subsidies, benefiting only a minority group of farmers.
The findings further revealed that 70 percent of the smallholder farmers cultivate less than two hectares and account for only 31 percent of the value agricultural production. Maize, being a low value commodity, cannot be a way out of poverty for this category of farmers.
“There has been limited willingness to change the status quo by the policy makers to shift resources from maize. Areas that have higher pay-offs than maize as far as smallholder income growth and rural poverty reduction have received little attention,” says IAPRI executive director Chance Kabaghe.
That is what the irrigation scheme tries to address.
The size of the existing gross area is approximately 5,000 hectares while the proposed size of the command area is 278 hectares out of which 254 hectares will be arable under irrigation.
Savenda Management Services is almost done with the clearing of the land where the irrigation plots will be situated while access and feeder roads had already been created as other works progress in earnest. A visit to the site of the irrigation scheme found Mr Chalikosa and project general manager Iain Macra supervising the dredging works at the site where the central pumping station will be located.
This is where the water tapped from the Zambezi River, about 200 metres away, will then be supplied to the irrigation areas through a system of pumping stations, reservoirs and pipes.
The works being carried out by Savenda include construction of the civil and electromechanical works of the pumping station located on the left bank of the Zambezi River and installation of the main conveyance pipes network of 6.5 kilometres in total, supplying water to the storage reservoirs and irrigation networks.
Results from a soil analysis by the Ministry of Agriculture in Lusitu shows that the land is fertile for the growing of various crops.
“So far from the houses that have been built for us, it is evident that this project is serious and we are looking forward to seeing it kicking off. I already know what I want to be growing,” said Monday Sai, 34.
Mary Simalambo, 44, a mother of eight children says once completed, the irrigation scheme will help her grow enough crops and to send her children to school.
“Farming here is hard and we are just grateful that this project is underway. It is going to transform our lives a great deal. We already know what we shall be growing, from vegetables, bananas and even tomatoes, those crops with ready market,” she says.
And Siavonga District Commissioner Lovemore Kanyama is optimistic that the project will enable locals in the area to conduct farming throughout the year.
“We are impressed with the quality of works being implemented by Savenda and every one of us is looking forward to having it operational as soon as possible,” he says.
In order to mitigate the impact of resettlement, Government has sought help from a number of organisations to finance irrigation projects – including the African Development Bank (AfDB) which will finance the six-year small-scale irrigation project in Chongwe, Mazabuka and Sinazongwe districts at US$10.77 million.
NDANGWA MWITTAH, Siavonga