By Benedict Tembo
GEORGE Jalata and his fellow farmers in Nzenge village in Sinazongwe district await their dividends after toiling for almost six months on the cotton crop.
Mr Jalata, who is the headman in Nzenga village under Chief Sinazongwe, has contributed to the success of the irrigation scheme by mobilising his subjects.
One hundred enthusiastic villagers along with headman Jalata have enlisted with Nzenga Irrigation Company Limited.
Nzenga, which President Lungu visited during the National Cotton Field Day, is one of the project areas of the small-scale irrigation project under the Ministry of Agriculture.
Its objective is to increase the food security of small-scale farmers and graduate them from resource – constrained to resource-endowed households through advanced and sustainable agricultural irrigation techniques.
It also aims to contribute to the national gross domestic product (GDP) while alleviating poverty at national and household levels.
Headman Jalata and 99 villagers are land owners as well as shareholders in Nzenga Irrigation Scheme, whose objective is to empower each beneficiary with part of the profit of one hectare of land in the scheme as dividends.
About 400 residents, mainly women and youths, are expected to benefit from the scheme in form of employment.
The scheme is gender-sensitive. There are 67 male and 33 female farmers under Nzenga.
The beneficiaries in the project are part of the Gwembe-Tonga community in the Gwembe valley displaced during the construction of the Kariba Dam in 1958.
Most of the affected farmers were displaced from the valley area with fertile alluvial soils to the upland areas where they ended up engaging in rain-fed subsistence farming on marginal lands and thus increasing the incidence of poverty.
In order to mitigate the impact of resettlement, Government sought the help of the African Development Bank (AfDB) to finance the six-year small-scale irrigation project in Chongwe, Mazabuka and Sinazongwe districts at US$10.77 million. And Nzenga was one of the sites.
The Finnish government contributed €10 million as supplementary grant for the continuation of the project designed to minimise drought risks, increase food production and household income of the target groups, Nzenga inclusive.
Nzenga has forged strong collaborations with the Ministry of Agriculture, sustainable and viable non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and corporations such as the Zambia National Farmers Union, the First National Bank (FNB) and Africa Management Services Company (AMSCO) to help build capacity as well as strong relationships with stakeholders to ensure success and sustainability of the schemes.
Nzenga general manager Andrew Mambwe says his project is now one of the models in the country following its successful take-off.
“Before, Government used to go to an area, identify a programme, fund it and leave it with a community and then it became a white elephant,” Mr Mambwe says.
Before establishing Nzenga, Deloitte and Touche, AMSCO and other stakeholders held consultative meetings with farmers to sensitise them about the benefits of the irrigation schemes and their sustainability.
Farmers were told that through their land, they would automatically become shareholders of the project while Government would hire professionals to run the schemes as companies on their [farmers’] behalf.
Nzenga is the second successful irrigation project after Manyonyo in Mazabuka where farmers grow sugar cane and sell it to Zambia Sugar.
Government is using Manyonyo and Nzenga to pilot public-private partnerships (PPPs) in agriculture.
Manyonyo has been in operation for three years now.
“These organisations are private but non-profit oriented. However, they must have enough money to grow, pay farmers and have to be sustainable for the operations to continue and uplift the livelihoods of the people. Under this arrangement, farmers get their dividends at the end of the harvest.
“Our model is to grow cash crops under contract farming,” Mr Mambwe says.
Contract farming is a system where out-takers of the crop pre-finance and pay off the balance when the crop is harvested.
“This year, we grew cotton, not by design but by default. It [cotton] was the only crop that could be pre-financed. We had to look for a partner to pre-finance,” Mr Mambwe says, announcing that North West Kooperatives (NWK) Agri Services pre-financed the cultivation of 100 hectares of cotton expected to be harvested in August.
Mr Mambwe says they had to start the scheme which had been lying idle for the past five years.
Of the 100 shareholders, some farmers may wish to work on their farm and decide whether to get paid daily, weekly or monthly.
Although Nzenga has piloted the scheme with rain-fed cotton, Mr Mambwe says they will test the efficacy of irrigation this season after harvesting the initial crop in August.
Officiating at this year’s national cotton field day at Nzenga farms in Sinazongwe on Friday, President Lungu said the country cannot talk about enhancing agricultural productivity in the country by solely depending on rainfall.
“There is an urgent need for us to explore other options such as irrigation initiatives. The Nzenga Irrigation Project here in Sinazongwe is one such scheme being implemented by NWK Agri Services in partnership with Government. In this partnership, North West Kooperatives Agri Services is providing inputs and a market for cotton whereas Government has established this massive irrigation scheme,” President Lungu said.
He said Nzenga will provide the people of Sinazongwe with jobs and subsequently empower them with incomes to improve their livelihoods.
“To you the people of Sinazongwe, you have a big responsibility to guard this infrastructure jealously. Look after it in the same manner you care about your own property,” President Lungu said.
The residents of Nzenga are willing to become a learning platform for other people intending to set up irrigation schemes despite some failed attempts in the past. That is the assurance from Headman Jalata.