By PRISCILLA SIMUKOKO-
“WHEN the canal was operational, farming was profitable because I used to spend less time watering a lima of pineapples and I was able to do other activities to supplement my income but now I just do vegetables,” laments Malita Sawanda, a farmer in Samahina area in Ikeleng’i District.
His cry is not peculiar to local farmers living around the area but depicts a common challenge small-scale farmers are facing.
Despite small-scale farmers contributing about 80 per cent of agricultural produce found on the market daily, their full potential has not been explored yet.
This may justify why farming amongst small-scale farmers is biased towards maize or green vegetables growing and is usually a seasonal activity.
“our livelihood in rural areas depend on farming and if we can have enough water supply all year round we can grow a variety of crops, we also want to buy cars and build better houses like our friends in town” says Heupar Musole, a cassava grower.
The plight of small-scale farmers has been compounded by their dependence on natural water resources such as rivers, dambos and streams for survival.
But most available water resources have in the recent past suffered pollution coming from increasing industrial activities coupled with climatic changes.
The impact of this has been poor yields causing low production and producing of seasonal crops.
Since the days of the First Republic administration when many irrigation canals and dams were constructed, there has been no maintenance of these infrastructure thus its poor state.
This has negatively affected the overall output by small-scale farmers and also has created a deficit in water resource infrastructure.
As a measure to improve the agricultural productivity and small scale farmer welfare, government has embarked on yet another ambitious project, the Zambia Water Resources Development Project (WRDP).
The project aims to support the implementation of an integrated framework for development and management of water resources in the country.
This framework will provide support towards the rehabilitation and construction of 22 dams and 300 boreholes in rural communities across the country.
The WRDP is being supported by the World Bank and is targeting rural small-scale farming communities in the country to improved water resources infrastructure such as dams and boreholes.
The rationale to concentrate in rural communities is to make available water supply all year round and consequently increase agricultural productivity at lower level.
The project will see the construction and rehabilitation of 22 multipurpose small dams which is estimated to benefit about one million direct and indirect beneficiaries over the next decade.
It is also expected that this investments will bring about 300 new boreholes farmers in rural communities across the country.
It is a five-year programme which the Ministry of Mines, Energy and Water Development will execute on behalf of Government at the total cost of US$ 50 Million.
The construction of dams will commence this year with the first two to be built in Mayinga District in North-western and in Zimba District in Southern provinces respectively.
The project will then roll out to all rural communities across the country.
Ministry of Mines, Energy and Water Development procurement specialist Anthony Mwila said in Solwezi the project would be developed in three components namely; water resources management, water resources development and institutional support.
“The objective of the first component is to enhance capacity at national and regional level to address the challenges of the resources management in Zambia” Mwila said.
Through this objective the project will support the construction, rehabilitation and upgrading of hydro meteorological and groundwater monitoring networks.
In the second component the project will ensure it addresses the infrastructure deficit through support to develop and rehabilitate small-scale water resources infrastructure such as small dams, weirs and other small civil works intended to retain water, reduce erosion, enhance recharge and ensure productive application, while the third component will aim to strengthen the institutional capacity for water resources management and development, both surface and ground water.
The component will provide support to the development of rules, plans strategies and carrying out of studies as needed for the implementation of the water resources management Act to ensure the sustainable and equitable development of water resources in the country. Mr Mwila added, “generally the benefits will also be accrued in key river basins to water users and improvements will be aggregated at the national level through the allocation of water and rights and rehabilitation of small dams.”
North-western Province which is among the first strategically selected regions to benefit from the project will see a boost in the agricultural sector.
The region is ranked third highest producer of agricultural produce after Southern and Eastern regions.
Permanent Secretary Amos Malupenga said “the project is welcome as it will enhance the quality of life of the people.
The majority of our people have no access to domestic and agricultural water yet there is huge potential to turn the region into the national food basket.”
Mr Malupenga said the project has not only brought life to the province but has also rekindled the hope of exploring the region for business opportunities.
He urged the ministry officers to ensure that results become visible as soon as possible because people are looking forward to get benefits from the efforts that government is making in improving their lives.