The Zvishavane Water Project


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  The aim of the Zvishavane Water Project (ZWP) is to make farmers more self-reliant by teaching them how to sustain their soil and water. The project engages communities throughout the Zvishavane and Chivi districts to increase the water supply and food security of local communities.

Zepheniah Phiri has contributed a "Natural Endowment" to the ZWP: a portion of his farmland is used to train the staff and provides a consistent source of income from crops. The project has thus far received funds from the Dutch government and Oxfam, which has supported it since 1988. There staff now numbers 11, and there are plans to expand support to additional communities in the coming years.

Working closely with government agricultural technicians, the project provides the hands-on knowledge to farmers that approach the government for assistance. Their work helps bring appropriate farming techniques and water conservation technologies directly to farmers. This is an important service, as noted by the irrigation experts Ellen Brown and Robert Nooter, who write, "Extension services need to publicize and demonstrate technologies at the farm level, not just on demonstration farms that farmers never see."

As a tool for sharing Phiri's model, the project has also published a manual, The Water Harvesting and Soil Conservation Booklet, which it provides to farmers throughout the region.

Staff members fully realize that the dam and garden projects they help develop will succeed only if the communities themselves are committed to their success. Therefore, they work only with communities that have come to a decision through a participatory process to proceed, and the community is an integral part of each project's implementation.

A single dam can provide water security to 200 families, which in Zimbabwe amounts to approximately 2,000 people. Each dam construction is a communal project that is approved by a local council.

Though dams have an impact on stream flow, communities along the water agree that a small dam that provides a year-round resource is preferable to a few months of water, followed by months in which the stream is dry. A cooperative dam project requires this sort of consensus, since construction of a dam can require families to travel further for their water.

Such projects have helped spread the ideas developed by Phiri and increase food security in the region. At the same time, they have encouraged the development of community-based cooperatives and a new level of organization and enterprise among local farmers.

Perhaps the greatest contribution is a growing sense of the need for soil and water conservation, and a willingness on the part of farmers to take individual responsibility for their own practices. Such small-scale conservation strategies could constitute a more viable and sustainable approach to irrigation in the future, and are increasingly gaining attention from water and development experts such as J.S. Wallace, who reported on the partitioning of rainfall in a presentation to the ninth World Congress in 1997. For these ideas to take root on a broad scale, further investment in appropriate policies, training, extension, and methods for accountability will be required, Phiri says.

  A Lesson From Zimbabwe

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