Eng. Mpala Thami
Zimbabwe is an agrarian country and agriculture is the backbone of the economy.
Inevitably, water resources plays a significant role in the agricultural sector and the success thereof for agriculture in contributing towards the country’s economic development.
Adequate water resources boost agricultural productivity and safeguards future profits of the agriculture and food sector (crop, fisheries and livestock). Agriculture is by far the largest user of water and the most important sector by employment especially for the medium to low-income population in Zimbabwe.
Population growth trends in Zimbabwe indicate that increases in the demand for food over the next 25 years will be met by increasing the yield from lands already under cultivation. Irrigated land currently produces 40 percent of the world’s food on 17 percent of the world’s agricultural land.
In comparison, Zimbabwe produces over 70 percent of its food requirements through rain-fed and/or irrigated land. These statistics therefore tell us that, greater efficiency, innovation and improved management is required if we are going to maintain or surpass the country’s agricultural output and needs.
The economic benefits of a successful agricultural sector are far too great to realise and a cornerstone in helping to realise Zimbabwe’s 2030 vision of becoming a middle-income economy.
Improved water resources management is critical to the stability and security that is required to enable economic development. Integrated water resources management is a process that promotes the co-ordinated development and management of water, land and related resources, in order to maximise the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.
This process has been defined by the Global Water Partnership that is widely accepted and has been tried and tested in various regions of the world.
Integrated water resources management (IWRM) aims to bring issues of enabling environment, institutional structures, management instruments and infrastructure together in a co-ordinated way, so that management of water — the economic benefits of improved water management 26 MARICHO: A resource for Agribusiness resources, is effectively and efficiently implemented.
Through effective and efficient management of water resources, agricultural and food productivity is inevitably boosted. Drivers of IWRM in the country are the National Co-ordination Unit that sits under the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement, UNICEF, and the Global Water Partnership Zimbabwe Chapter that is hosted by the Upper Manyame Sub-Catchment Council office.
These are institutions where further advice can be sought and partnerships made in the drive towards sustainable agricultural productivity.
Agricultural exports produce approximately ZWL$134,2 billion annually and 40 percent of Zimbabwe’s foreign exchange earnings are made through agricultural exports, making it the economic sector that contributes the most to Zimbabwe’s involvement in international trade.
The economic benefits realised from a successful agricultural sector include poverty reduction, increased employment, and production of bio-energy through agricultural by-products, food security and healthier lifestyles that mean less strain on the country’s health system. It is argued by economists that the economy has the potential to grow two-fold through increased agricultural productivity and contribute more than 30 percent towards the country’s GDP.
This underlines the great potential and benefit that improved water resources management and improved agricultural productivity has on the country. The 2018 National Critical Skills Audit (NCSA) report revealed that critical skills in agriculture from the country’s universities and agricultural colleges are below the national requirement towards Vision 2030. Zimbabwe’s production of agricultural skills as of 2017 graduation levels is below the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) levels with an average deficit of 88 percent.
This statistic is staggering and worrisome, especially considering that agriculture is the cog in the turning wheel of the economy. Zimbabwe requires technical agricultural skills at all levels if it is to be competitive in the region and if the Vision 2030 of a middle-income country is to be achieved. In order to improve on such figures, strategies for producing and retaining such critical skills need to be put in place. Such recommendations may involve additional funding for tertiary institutions, curriculum review at agricultural colleges and universities and exposure to new markets with technological advancements.
Policy makers and decision makers should adopt practices such as integrated water resources management that looks holistically in improving agricultural and food productivity, and also to plan for producing and retaining critical skills in the agricultural sector.
Eng. Mpala Thami is a registered professional civil and water engineer with 20 years experience. He is a Board Member and Vice President of the Zimbabwe Institution of Engineers. He is also the Chairman of the Clear Water Cluster for the Infrastructure Development Group of Engineers in the Presidential Advisory Council. — This article was first published in the Maricho Magazine.