Solar Powered Water Engines Transforming Bulilima Farmers’ Lives

RURAL communities love tilling the land and their economies are inherently hinged on agricultural activities.

They rely mainly on rain-supported crop farming for their livelihoods.

However, with the unreliable rainfall patterns being experienced in some parts of the country, villagers are getting worried.

They are now struggling to maintain their crops.

It’s however not all gloom for Bulilima District farmers.

A non-governmental organisation, Caritas Archdiocese of Bulawayo has installed solar powered water systems in the district to alleviate the villagers’ challenges.

The water systems are being used in gardens to water crops. Most villagers in Bulilima are relying on the garden projects as their source of livelihood.
Regina Mpofu outside Vuka Uzenzele Market Garden
They use solar energy to pump water from underground to taps fitted within gardens.

People in Mpimbila Village in Bulilima are enjoying the fruits of the solar-powered gardens.

Villagers from the area are operating Vuka Uzenzele Market Garden which is sustaining 50 households.

Malani Dube — one of the brains behind the garden project — said when the project commenced they were collecting water for their crops from a nearby river. Later, their project and sole source of livelihood was under threat. There was no more water and farmers started toiling to access water.

Experts told them the water table in their area had dropped.

Dube said some members of the garden project started pulling out because of challenges that were being faced.

“We came up with the idea to open the garden in 2013. Our aim was to establish a project that would sustain livelihoods. The elderly, widows and other underprivileged members of our community turned to this garden for a living.

“However, we started facing water challenges because of unreliable rainfall patterns. We started digging wells on the river bed after the river dried up. We had challenges as the water levels were dropping drastically by the day. This drove us to dig deeper,” said Dube.

It became an uphill task for the garden project members to water their crops.

Some members, especially the elderly, withdrew from the project.

The garden yield started dwindling as the water scarcity took its toll.

In the past two years, the garden has been operating without a perimeter fence.

This resulted in animals devouring the crops.

All that is in the past now.

Dube and his colleagues are a happy lot today.

Caritas assisted the cooperative by erecting a perimeter fence, extending the garden and installing the solar powered water system.

Dube is confident the new solar-powered water system will be a life-changer.

“The villagers now have tap water at their disposal which they can use to water their crops. The system doesn’t rely on electricity as we’re located in a remote part of the district which doesn’t have power lines.

“We’re happy that the elderly will now be able to pursue their farming activities without having to exert too much labour,” said Dube.

If guaranteed access to reliable water sources members of the garden project could earn a minimum of R400 per month, Dube said.

“We now expect our production levels to increase as a result of the new water system as the use of taps means we can put more land under crop.

“We sell the produce which we get to neighbouring communities in the district. Our garden has 50 members and on average members can earn R400 a month,” he said.

Some of the crops at the garden are maize and various vegetables.

Another beneficiary, Regina Mpofu, relies on the money she realises from selling garden produce to pay school fees for her four children.

She is confident of making as much as R500 a month, now that their garden project has adequate water supplies.

Mpofu sells her vegetables by going around neighbouring villages in search of customers while others come to her homestead.

Caritas development coordinator, Welcome Sibanda, told villagers at the handover ceremony of the system that it was meant to help villagers pursue their farming activities.

He said the solar-powered water project will mitigate the impact of drought and hunger caused by unfavourable rainfall patterns.

Caritas installed a similar project at 18 other garden projects in various parts of Bulilima District.

“Villagers from this area have been struggling to access water for their crops as the river is dry. As a solution we introduced a water pumping system which is solar powered.

“This system pumps water from underground and feeds it to a 5,000 litre tank which was installed in the garden area. The water is then fed to taps which are dotted around the garden. These pumps use solar power. We had to drill about four metres deep to reach the water table,’’ said Sibanda.

The solar-powered water project has the capacity to develop and empower rural communities if spread to all the 59 districts in Zimbabwe.

Sibanda said there was a need for communities to rely on the limited resources within their areas to sustain livelihoods.

“Most projects in Matabeleland depend on reliable water sources, be it irrigation or livestock rearing. We realised that we could use solar energy to harness water.

“We’ve now managed to establish 19 solar powered gardens across 15 villages in Bulilima. Our aim is to establish as many gardens as possible in other areas,’’ he said.

Chief Bango from Mangwe District cannot wait for Caritas to bring the project to his district.

Most villagers in rural areas rely on farming as a source of livelihood, the chief explained.

The livelihood of most villagers is centred on selling their produce, including cattle in order to buy groceries, pay school fees and buy uniforms, opined the traditional leader.

“When the yield isn’t satisfactory they look up to relatives in the diaspora or the government to assist them. Not everyone is privileged to access this assistance. This state of affairs has a negative impact on households as some guardians are forced to withdraw their children from school whenever the yield is poor and livestock perform badly. A number of children drop out of school whenever there’s a drought. For some guardians, the only source of income they have is the crops which they harvest. Some of them sell their cattle but if the livestock is in bad shape and the crops wither it means the families will be stranded,” said Chief Bango.

Bulilima Farmers Association Chairperson, Obert Sibanda, welcomed the Caritas-sponsored water project.

He hopes community members would be empowered on how to maintain their cattle and other livestock during drought.

“Livestock rearing could serve as a reliable source of livelihood for villagers, if they’re properly coached,” said Obert Sibanda.

He bemoaned the lack of long term water sources like dams within Bulilima district.

Dams will help the district set up irrigation schemes and support livestock during drought, he said

“Villagers rely on various forms of farming be it, livestock, garden or communal farming. The underlying point is that the success of all these is determined by the availability of water.

“Established farmers are better placed than communal farmers during drought. They can use their business instincts to sell some of their livestock in order to nurture the remainder. However, some communal farmers aren’t fully aware of this concept and in the process they lose their entire herds,” said Obert Sibanda.

Most villagers in Bulilima District have turned to market gardening as a source of livelihood all year round.

Obert Sibanda said these projects could be more successful if the gardens are expanded.

“What’s needed is the construction of dams. If villages have dams and villagers can access water for their crops, lives will change for the better,” he said.

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