Conditions characterizing the sustainability of smallholder irrigation schemes: the case of Bikita District Zimbabwe
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This thesis examines conditions characterizing viability and sustainability of smallholder irrigation agriculture based on four smallholder irrigation schemes in Bikita District, Masvingo Province of Zimbabwe, namely Chinyamatumwa, Mashoko, Rozva and Shereni. Climate change and variability has necessitated investment in smallholder irrigation agriculture, a sector that has been bypassed by the green revolution, leaving the resource-poor and small landholders food insecure. Smallholder irrigation schemes in Zimbabwe are unsustainable beyond external assistance. These outcomes leave plot holders worse off, due to their failure to achieve viability and sustainability. Application of Irrigation Management Transfer at country and irrigation scheme levels has lacked consideration of local conditions and specific characteristics of local scheme management. The Zimbabwean economic downturn that started in 1999 worsened the condition due to the withdrawal of government and donor support from irrigation development. This left smallholder irrigation schemes exposed to organisational and management problems, creating differences and confusion amongst institutions and irrigation project supervisors, regarding their duties and responsibilities. Hitherto, conditions characterizing the viability and sustainability of smallholder irrigation agriculture have received no direct research attention nor has the nexus of the two phenomena been theorized in Zimbabwe. This study is the first study to apply the Viability-Sustainability Model in the assessment of challenges facing smallholder irrigation agriculture in the country. The Sustainable Livelihood Approach augmented by the Viability System Based Theory was employed in the assessment of the aforementioned four smallholder irrigation schemes. The methodology of the study was informed by both the positivist and constructivist paradigms. This mixed-methods research allowed the opportunity to compensate for inherent methodological weaknesses, capitalize on inherent method strengths and offset inevitable methodological biases. A sequential exploratory design was employed where collection and analysis of qualitative data was followed by a collection and analysis of quantitative data or vise-versa. Data-collection tools included questionnaires, interviews, focus group discussions, observations (using photographic equipment) and document analysis, all of which were used for triangulation purposes. Purposive sampling was used to select key informants who were interviewed while computer generated random number tables were used to select the irrigators who were included in the questionnaire survey and FGDs. SPSS, Version 16.0, was used to perform descriptive statistics, ANOVA, during quantitative data analysis. The thematic process of data-analysis (a model of content analysis), complemented by the constant comparative method, was used in qualitative analysis. In all the smallholder irrigation schemes, viability was considered to be a function of governance and social cohesion, financial management capability and technical and water resources management capability as well as a variety of capitals all of which are interconnected into a single system. However, social dissonance and poor financial management system were prevalent in all the schemes as compared to other factors. The study concludes that for smallholder irrigation schemes to develop as farming organizations, farmer empowerment is the order of the day. The study also concludes that farming organizations such as irrigation schemes are under the influence of both internal and external forces, which should be carefully managed in order to attain viability and sustainability. The ability of farmers to organize themselves or their operations depends on internal factors like competency of the IMC, WUA, systems in place, training, and financial systems. Similarly, the ability of the farmers to relate to external stakeholders such as donors, credit institutions, government policy, farmers’ cooperatives, markets and competitors is also critical for mapping the viability and sustainability of the schemes.