The main focus of Pro Africa’s work till now has been the implementation of small scale gravity fed irrigation schemes, with the aim of enabling the benefiting families to enjoy a more diverse diet and earn cash with the sale of excess produce.
To date, the operations of Pro Africa have been limited to the two Matabeleland provinces of Zimbabwe, where a broad experience base has been built up through the execution of projects and the consequent interaction that has taken place with a large section of society in the region, which includes local and international NGOs, Government agencies, farmers unions, churches and clubs at village level.
It is not sufficiently recognized that, although many rural farmers in Matabeleland show interest in irrigation development, there is no real irrigation tradition to speak of. Irrigation is a new phenomenon and as such it should be introduced with caution.
Irrigation by gravity is much more attractive in that it does not require pumping at all and therefore reduces the operational expenses. It is more sustainable in terms of maintenance. Gravity irrigation options are however limited and extensive site surveys are required to identify gravity irrigation options. The initial capital outlay for such a scheme is usually high and can be a deterrent, particularly if it includes the construction of a dam. However, in a situation where a dam already exists, the required capital input is sometimes very low.
Pro Africa is implementing gravity irrigation schemes in all the districts of Matabeleland South province. Water is being sourced from existing dams. To date, 64 gravity fed irrigation schemes have been established with a total hectarage of 286.6ha ha and benefiting 2891 households.
The activities carried out are designed to be very sustainable. The communities are trained in all aspects of activity development like fencing, canal construction, pipe laying and general maintenance of the infrastructure.
As irrigation development is new to most of the communities a lot of capacity building is required hence Pro Africa has developed a comprehensive manual on irrigation development and extension services. Workshops for the beneficiaries are designed to cover topics like Leadership and team building crop production, marketing, project planning and management, writing and keeping of all records and social topics like Gender and HIV/AIDS as well as Gender based violence and Sexual Reproductive Health Rights of women and children.
Apart from the irrigation and crop production syllabus, Pro Africa believes that any meaningful development of the person should include better sanitation. As such the organization has been involved in PHHE trainings for the irrigation members as well as all interested parties within the communities. Building of toilets and latrines are taken care of during the project implementation.
Pro Africa has since the year 2000 implemented more than 64 small gravity based irrigation projects, below existing dams which were underutilized in terms of irrigation. More than 10 years later, in 2012, it becomes increasingly difficult to identify existing sources of water with undeveloped irrigation potential. Yet there is still a huge demand among the smallholder farming community in Matabeleland for irrigation facilities. The only sustainable way to meet this need is to enhance the capacities of dams and develop additional sources of water. Eventually more dams need to be constructed, but in the medium term a lot of existing dams can be upgraded to facilitate the implementation of irrigation projects (preferably gravity based). The refurbishment and capacity enhancement of existing dams, will not only make the development of small gravity irrigation possible, but will also create opportunities for a whole range of economic activities that depend on the availability of water.
In addition to irrigation development, Pro Africa has embarked on other livelihoods projects in an endeavor to support those members of the communities who are not in the irrigation schemes. Through an intensive needs assessment undertaken around the schemes, communities have identified the following projects:
Small grain production
Rainfall is low and periodic hence seasonal droughts and severe dry spells are common in Matabeleland South Province. Dry land crop production is therefore risky except in certain very favorable localities, where limited drought resistant crops are grown as a sideline. This has contributed to food insecurity within the province. In order to improve on that the organization together with the communities decided to venture into conservation farming, producing small grains which adapt to the weather conditions in the area.
Small livestock production
To further improve on food security for the communities, rearing of small livestock (goats & pigs) was introduced to communities, because they multiply fast and are easy to manage. Goats browse on the acacia species which are prevalent in the district whereas pigs feed mostly on crop residue from the irrigation schemes.