Lusitu is a newly created district of Southern Province which for the past years has been facing challenges regarding farming, due to poor rainfall distribution experienced in the district.
The drought in this valley area is so severe that communities are unable to access safe and clean drinking water as well as to engage in proper agricultural practices which happen to be the source of their livelihood.
Crops also fail to survive due to the rising temperatures that characterize the district, as a result, increasing poverty levels among the smallholder farmers.
With the view to address these challenges Government of Zambia in 2016 partnered with World Bank to better the living conditions of Lusitu local communities through the US$ 4.5 million Irrigation Development Support Project (IDSP).
Lusitu Camp Officer under the Ministry of Agriculture Wise Mulenga said the project will help smallholder farmers grow their crops throughout the year.
“People of the drought-prone Lusitu will soon benefit from Government’s US$ 4.5 million World Bank-funded irrigation scheme which will give them an opportunity to do their farming activities without depending on the rains,” said Mr. Mulenga.
Mr. Mulenga said farming in Lusitu is challenging as it receives about 800 millimeters of rainfall every year making it hard for the crops to survive and to practice crop diversification.
He stated that the major drought-tolerant crops grown in the area is sorghum and finger millet which is not enough for both nutritional diet and income generation.
Mr. Mulenga said the irrigation scheme will help farmers to engage in crop diversification which has the potential to improve living conditions for local communities in Lusitu.
He said once the irrigation scheme is complete it will boost and sustain agricultural practices in the area as the smallholder farmers will not worry about the rain season, but will continue with their crop production.
Mr. Mulenga said the soil in the area is fertile and ideal for growing various crops, saying that the irrigation project will create employment and reduce poverty levels currently being experienced.
The works are in progress and are being undertaken by Savenda Management Services, which is expecting to complete the project by November 2019.
Project manager Martine Carvite said So far, clearing and leveling of 278 hectares of land for the creation of irrigation plots have been done.
Mr. Carvite stated that the project includes the tapping of water from the Zambezi River to a central pumping station which is about 200 meters away.
“After the central pumping station, the water will be supplied to the designated irrigation areas through a system of pumping stations, reservoirs and pipes and Close to 4,000 households are expected to benefit from the project,” Mr. Carvite.
The project is an initiative of the Ministry of Agriculture under IDSP, is being actualized on the left bank of the Zambezi River, downstream of Kariba Dam, about 15 kilometers south of Chirudu.
Mr. Carvite said the construction and installation of an irrigation network with all ancillary structures including pumping stations, reservoirs, pipelines, valves and hydrants, as well as access and service roads are almost done.
He disclosed that Savenda Management Services was working round the clock to ensure that the project is completed before November 2019 so that the people of Lusitu, who only depend on rain-fed agriculture, can begin to sustain themselves through irrigation.
“As Savenda Management Services, we are working very hard to ensure that this project is completed by November 2019,” said Mr. Carvite.
He said the irrigation area which was divided into Tier I, Tier II and Tier III to cater for small-scale farmers, cooperative society and an anchor commercial farmer respectively, has reached an advanced stage.
“Under Tier 1, the land will be for small-holder farmers who wish to take up irrigated agriculture using family labor with individually farmed plots of one hectare or less using surface irrigation to grow vegetables and other high-value crops,” said Mr. Cavite.
Mr. Cavite added that Tier two will consist of larger plots of one and five hectares each for cultivation by emerging small-scale commercial farmers or small groups of neighboring farmers using irrigation sprinkler to grow field crops.
Huge plots of at least 60 hectares each under center-pivot irrigation operated by a private company that will eventually be wholly-owned by the community, will be under Tier 3.
Mr. Carvite disclosed that Tier 1 and 2 is done regarding bush clearing and installation of distribution pipes, only waiting for the installation of machines.
He added that Tier 3 is almost done but still waiting for cooperation from the local community concerning land demarcation and payments from the government.
Mr. Carvite expressed his gratitude to the government and the World Bank for the overwhelming support rendered to Savenda Management Services towards the implementation of the project.
And Lusitu Irrigation Development Project Site Foreman Patrick Sinyangwe revealed that the Zesco substation has already been installed.
Mr. Sinyangwe said the substation will be supplying power to the main pump station which will be distributing water to distribution pipes in Tier 1, 2 and 3.
He stated that the works at the site are at 80 percent in terms of pipe allocation and installation in all the Tiers.
Mr. Sinyangwe disclosed that Savenda Management Services has also, from the contract cost, already created access and feeder roads from the central pumping station to the storage reservoir with a total volume of 2, 700 cubic meters.
Mr. Sinyangwe said the irrigation project is a massive one as it will transform the lives of the people of Lusitu.
“There is no doubt that this project will change the lives of people in Lusitu as they will not rely on rains for growing their crops,” said Mr. Sinyangwe.
He said the project will not only help the farmers to irrigate their crops but will also supply safe and clean drinking water to the local communities in the area.
Mr. Sinyangwe said through rain-fed farming, small-scale farmers in Lusitu supply tomatoes, Okra, and bananas to markets as far as Siavonga, Chirundu, and Kafue, stating that with the coming in of the project farmers will increase their crop variety that will enable them to export to neighboring countries.
He said the project should have been completed in 2018 November but there have been some challenges such as adverse weather conditions and the relocation of people from the land earmarked for the irrigation plots to an area where modern houses were being built for them.
Mr. Sinyangwe revealed that about 103 out of 114 houses built have already been occupied by the displaced households in Lusitu.
He has since urged the community to cooperate with government and Savenda Management Services to ensure that the project is completed at the stipulated time.
Meanwhile, village Headman of Muchimbu and also secretary in Lusitu Community Land Trust (CLT) whose group acts as a bridge between the community and the implementers of the project, Moffat Sai has praised the government for the irrigation initiative, stating that the sufferings of people in the dry Lusitu will soon come to an end.
“We can’t wait for the completion of this project. We have suffered a lot as you know Rain-fed agriculture is not dependable especially in our area. This irrigation project is definitely a solution to our plights,” Headman Sai.
Headman Sai has since pledged to work with the government and Savender Management Services to ensure that the project is completed at the earliest possible of time to enable farmers to start their production.
Regardless of being just about 200 meters from the Zambezi River, Lusitu has not ever been a beneficiary of Africa’s fourth-longest river that gives life to about six countries; from its source in North-Western Zambia, then Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique before flowing into the Indian Ocean.
Consequently, the project, which will serve commercial, emergent and small-holder farmers through access to irrigation will be tapping water from Zambezi River and it will include pumping stations, irrigation equipment, reservoirs as well as irrigation fields. This eventually will increase the yields of farmers in Lusitu hence improving food and nutrition security of the country at large.