The new irrigation entrepreneurs: commerical horticulture in Masvingo

This week, we are releasing the next video in the ‘Making Markets’ series. This time it focuses on vegetable production in Mavingo (if you’ve seen the other ones, you can skip the first 1 min and 30 secs, as it’s the same intro. The total length is 11 mins. Also, if your internet connection is slow, there’s a lower resolution version too).

Mr Mahove of Wondedzo extension A1 resettlement area and his wives appear on the video, shot in 2014. He is an example of a new farming entrepreneur, focusing on irrigated horticulture for local markets. He was a pioneer in the area, but many others are now following his example, making often significant money from selling vegetables. We interviewed him in 2012 as part of the ‘Space, Markets and Employment in Agricultural Development’ project:

“I am 30 years and originate from Chikombedzi. I am married to six wives and we have a total of 11 children. I belong to John Marange Apostolic church which emphasizes self-reliance. I used to survive using my hands as a tin smith based at Bhuka Irrigation scheme some 20 km south of Masvingo town. While there I was impressed by the fact that people were prospering through irrigation. I am the elder son. My father passed on in 2004 and left behind a large family of 20 on this 28 hectare plot who had to be taken care of. I had no option but to inherit the plot and the responsibility over family.

“In 2006 I decided to practise what I had seen at Bhuka Irrigation scheme in order to make money and cater for family needs. We started irrigating with buckets from a small dam near the homestead from 2006 to 2007, selling vegetables locally and a bit to Masvingo town. The funds allowed me to buy a water foot pump. In 2010 I bought a 5 HP diesel water pump for USD $220. Members of the community who were irrigating using buckets started complaining saying I was finishing the water in the small dam. I was irrigating just 0.4 ha, but they still evicted me in 2010.

“I approached the councilor, also from my same church, who gave me part of his land (0.3 ha) close to Mutirikwe river to do my horticulture pumping water from the river at the start of 2011. The area proved too small to satisfy increasing demand for my produce. I approached the councilor again who allowed me to use part of state land allocated to the cattle dip. My total irrigable area was now 1.5 hectares. All along I was renting irrigation pipes from Mr Madzokere, a plot holder, for USD$ 17 per month. In 2011 I bought 46 irrigation pipes from Mbare/Magaba in Harare at USD$46 per pipe. I was now irrigating full time and making good money which made people jealous.

“The struggle to evict me started again. I was accused of invading the dip area. First I was reported to Vet Department. They came and were impressed by my irrigation and allowed me to continue because I was using only a small part of the dip area. I was reported again to   Zimbabwe National Water Authority ZINWA) for abstracting water without a permit. They came and again were impressed and advised me to get a permit which I did. ZINWA gave me a permit for domestic use which means I was not using amounts that warranted payment for water use. I was then reported to the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) . The allegation was that I was cutting trees during land clearing which caused deforestation. They came and made assessments and concluded there was no environmental threat in what I was doing. I was then reported e to the Ministry of Lands for using state land without a permit. The District Administrator, chief, councilor, Committee of Seven and other players became involved. They came to the conclusion that I was actually doing the community a service because I am the one who pumps water into the dip using my engine. The people who wanted me evicted had failed and as a last resort they physically confronted me at the irrigation plot. I stood my ground and they left humiliated up to now. I produce rape, tomatoes, cabbages and green mealies. I sell most of my rape and cabbbages to OK supermarket, Tsungai supermarket and the local market also buy rape and cabbages. The bulk of tomatoes is bought by 5   women vendors from the kutrain market in Masvingo. Supermarkets want tomatoes in bulk – the whole of 1 ha. I cannot supply that amount.

“I hope to manage the seasonal pattern of supply. For rape I supply 500 bundles twice per week. January to June is the highest production. It sells at 25-30c per bundle. The main season for cabbage February to September. I sell 300 heads/once per week at 50-65 c per head. I sell green mealies for $1 for 10, sold at Roy Business Centre along the highway. For green leaf vegetables we prepare dried vegetables (mufushwa) from poor quality plants and trimmings. This is sold at Masvingo kutrain market at $5/20 litre bucket.

“For transport I hire Mr Ruchanyu’s two-tonne truck. He’s a fellow Apostolic farmer nearby. It costs US$25 to town Also Mr Mugabazhi has a smaller 1 tonne truck. He is extension supervisor. He goes to work in town and will carry produce [since 2012, Mahove has bought his own from the proceeds of his sales]”.

Mahove is one of a number of new irrigation entrepreneurs in the Wondedzo area of Masvingo district. Each has invested in pumps and pipes and are making good use of available water supplies. All have developed market networks linking to Masvingo town and beyond, as well as supplying the local area. They are also employing people for a range of tasks. With a limited capital investment in irrigation equipment, the returns are significant, and many have, like Mahove, bought vehicles to assist with their marketing, as well as improving their homes, sending kids to school and so on.

But there are clear constraints to this form of production. Water is the key limitation, as the water sources are limited, and under increasing pressure. While extraction is not massive with the small pumps, as more and more join this form of small-scale commercial irrigation, seasonal water scarcities are emerging, along with conflicts over who has access. The authorities have not thought how to regulate such water access, as the Water Act offers only large-scale catchment management solutions geared to large scale irrigation. Policy innovation in this area will be important to ensure that people have equitable access to water, and that the resource is not permanently depleted. The other challenge of course is marketing. Mahove was a new entrant into the market, establishing early connections with supermarkets and traders. But there is intense competition, and major gluts at certain times of year. Tomatoes in particular are a favoured crop, and diversification is essential. This makes managing production in a market-sensitive way essential, as well as expanding out into processing to add value. Mahove and family are involved in drying vegetables, but other options will need to be explored in order to maximize income.

The post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The new irrigation entrepreneurs: commerical horticulture in Masvingo

  1. am

    Diversification is required to avoid glut depressions. A plot near here had thousands of cabbages which have been going very slowly. Soon they will be over ripe and not saleable which is sad.
    A man here is into garlic on a small scale but pedals up to his small vegetable garden, does his things, then gets it to town. He makes a useful return based on his small scale.
    More of this unusual type of thing will help avoid gluts and depressions.
    A change in diet would help too. People everywhere have a reluctance to eat something they don’t know. So some sort of information through media channels could focus on these additional things, create some demand and help keep up value of the standard products and introduce new value through more unusual products..

  2. Pingback: Land and Commercial Agriculture in Zimbabwe: New Findings | The Povertist

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