Vulnerable groups get irrigation lifeline

by Pamenus Tuso

When Portia Mucharemba and other ward 19 villagers in Shurugwi were relocated from their homesteads and farming plots in 2000 to pave the way for the Anglo-Platinum Unki Mine, their world seemed to have collapsed.

Mucharemba and other farmers were settled in the area in 1982 during the first and orderly phase of the government’s resettlement programme. Until their relocation from the area, the farmers had been surviving thanks to an old irrigation scheme left by the previous white owner of the farm.

“This irrigation scheme, though dilapidated, has been supporting our families since the time we were resettled in the area. In 2000, Unki Mine moved us to a new place and built us modern houses, but this compensation meant nothing because we were deprived of our source of income,” said Mucharemba in an interview with The Zimbabwean.

Last week, however, the mine handed over a modern, overhead irrigation system to the farmers, which will benefit 107 farmers, including 35 young people and 35 women.

The Shungudzevhu irrigation project has cost $550,000 and covers 21 hectares. It draws water from a nearby dam, whose wall was rehabilitated by Unki Mine, which also bought pumps.

“The youths and women have got their own portions of land, which they manage on their own. We also have the main committee, which oversees the general operation of scheme,” explained Joseph Dendere, the scheme’s chair.

This year, the farmers have already planted a variety of cash crops, including maize, potatoes and beans.

“Following the establishment of this scheme, most of the youths here have now ventured into serious farming. They used to spend most of their time either gold-panning or looking for employment at the mine,” said Evans

Ndlovu, youth chair at the scheme. This year, young farmers have planted around three hectares of potatoes and are expecting around $5,000 from the crop.

Sibusisiwe Dera, the women’s chair, said following the commissi-oning of the new irrigation scheme, the lives of women in the area had changed for the better. “In terms of efficiency and output, the new irrigation is very effective. We are now able to venture into cash -crop farming, such as butternuts and tomatoes,” she said. “

Dera said the lifestyles of many women had changed overnight, as they could now afford to send their children to school, to buy clothes and some luxuries.

According to Dendere, the scheme is expecting to harvest 70 tonnes of maize this year. Dendere added that by getting young people involved, they hoped crime rates would drop.

“On top of involving vulnerable people, we plan to draft more youths into the project so that they are not idle – something that can make them think of committing crimes,” he said.

61-year-old Melisa Huruva has been a resident of Shurugwi’s Ward 17 since birth, but her last 13 years in the mining district have been marked by hunger. None of her surviving four children have work, and she is also responsible for eight grandchildren.

Farming was the widow’s only source of livelihood, but erratic rainfall over the years left her without decent crops and still with mouths to feed.

“In a few weeks’ time, we will start harvesting our crops. That will mean more food for me and my grandchildren and money for them to re-enrol at primary school because they had dropped out,” said Huruva.

Another project beneficiary, widower Tukunda Bere said that in homes close to starvation, there were always tensions and conflicts. The project had brought peace to many households in the area.

“We now have hope for an exciting life in this community. The project has also shown those who were without hope that life can be sweeter, because everyone involved in the project now looks forward to adequate food and cash from sale of surplus,” said Tonderai Nyika, another beneficiary.

Speaking at the handover ceremony last week, Unki board chair July Ndlovu reaffirmed his company’s commitment to economic empowerment for the communities where his company operates. Ndlovu added that the mine would continue making checks to ensure that the efforts didn’t die.

“We are committed to making sure that the lives of the people in the areas where we operate are lifted up. The wish is to make sure that the presence of the mine is felt in all the 14 wards of Shurugwi district. This project may be the first, but it won’t be the last,” he said.

Over the years, Unki has made other contributions towards helping the needy. The mine came to the aid of Gweru provincial hospital last year by constructing a casualty ward with modern emergency treatment facilities. The mine donated tens of blankets to the same institution, and also constructed a modern hospital incinerator at Shurugwi district hospital.

Unki reduced by more than 95 per cent the incidence of home deliveries by constructing a mother’s waiting shelter at Chironde clinic in Shurugwi. In Gweru, Isolation Hospital, Mkoba 1 Clinic and Mkoba Polyclinic were refurbished.

Recently, the platinum mine also joined the corporate world in assisting victims of the Tokwe-Mukosi floods through a donation of blankets and fuel worth $60 000.