ZAMBIA Correctional Service (ZSC) is readying itself to break new ground in food production following the launch of the World Bank-funded Irrigation Development Support Project (IDSP).This ambitious project being undertaken at a cost of US$4,604,771, covering 1,440 hectares of virgin land in Central and Copperbelt provinces, is expected to propel ZCS into commercial farming.
ZCS has been growing maize, soya beans, wheat and groundnuts at its farms.
Maize production has steadily gone up because the crop is used to produce mealie meal for prisoners.
During the 2017/2018 farming season, ZCS produced 70,000 50kg bags of white maize, a record the Correctional Service is ready to beat when it embarks on large-scale irrigation farming.
The IDSP is being implemented at Nansanga Correctional Farm in Serenje district, Lubambala (Mpika), Mukuyu (Kabwe) and Chitwi in Luanshya on the Copperbelt.
Nansanga irrigation project covers 700 hectares of virgin land. The project has been allocated US$2,572,102.88 and the farm will have nine centre pivots with complete accessories.
The Mukuyu farm irrigation project, which will have six centre pivots, will cost about K10.3 million. Over 200 hectares will be under irrigation when operations start.
Lubambala farm, which has two centre pivots and 130 hectares of land, will be under irrigation when the K958,886-worth project is commissioned.
Chitwi irrigation project will gobble about K10.6 million. It is a 310 hectare farm which will have four irrigation centre pivots.
The World Bank grant covers the buying of centre pivots and auxiliary accessories.
However, ZCS is responsible for the clearing of land and undertaking civil works such as the building of dams, reservoirs and laying of pipes at all sites.
ZCS Commissioner General Percy Chato says the IDSP is designed to propel the diversification of Zambia’s economy.
“A total of 1,440 hectares of virgin land was considered for the installation of electric centre pivots under the irrigation project. Serenje Correctional Farm constitutes 48 percent of the entire project of 700 hectares,” Mr Chato said.
The projects will be implemented in phases to ensure speedy execution of works. For this reason, ZCS has decided to prioritise the Chitwi and Mukuyu projects which involve less work in terms of clearing of land and execution of civil works.
About 80 percent of work has already been done at the two sites.
“Thus land clearing works at Nansanga Correctional Farm have delayed as we are waiting for the completion of work in the Kabwe and Luanshya projects that are scheduled for completion by 31 July, 2018.
“Thereafter, all the seven available heavy-duty machinery will be relocated to Nansanga to re-activate the works,” Mr Chato said.
The clearing of land and related civil works at Nansanga Correctional Farm are expected to take nine months.
Saro Agro Industrial Limited has been engaged to design, supply, deliver and install nine units of irrigation centre pivots at Nansanga Correctional Farm.
“All the nine centre pivots have been installed and we are waiting for power to be connected to test the equipment,” Mr Chato said.
Zesco is in the process of connecting the farms to the national electricity grid.
Mr Chato said phase one of the project is nearing completion.
The IDSP was set in motion on February 18, 2015 after the Ministry of Home Affairs came up with the required business plans.
Government says the World Bank-funded irrigation project is a major boost to ZCS because it will increase their production of maize, wheat and soya beans.
The irrigation project is also seen as one of the measures that will help Zambia to actualise its vision of economic diversification through, among others, the agriculture sector.
Minister of Home Affairs Stephen Kampyongo recently toured the four project sites in Central Province.
“We want to go in full time production (because) the government agenda is to diversify the economy, and agriculture is one of the pillars that we have identified,” Mr Kampyongo said.
“It’s not just about feeding the nation. It’s also about feeding other nations if we can expand from where we are.”
Mr Kampyongo said the IDSP is a major project through which Government wants to scale up crop production in ZCS.
ZCS has for a long time been involved in food production and the introduction of irrigation farming is expected to boost its farming potential.
Mr Kampyongo was happy with the progress made so far at Mukuyu Correctional Farm in terms of clearing of the land and installation of machinery.
“It’s encouraging and I want to return here towards the end of the year to just come and see the greenfield,” the elated minister said.
Mr Kampyongo commended Mr Chato and ZCS staff for providing leadership in the implementation of the World Bank-funded irrigation project.
“This is very encouraging and this is what we want to see,” he said.
“We are not just focusing on maize [production] but other crops as well because we are also talking about diversifying.”
However, the implementation of the massive irrigation project has not been without challenges.
The delayed electrification of farms, breaking down of equipment like earth-moving machines, the absence of basic infrastructure on site and inadequate allocation of money have slowed the pace of work.
Nonetheless, Mukuyu farm is expected to be ready for irrigation farming by February next year.
The farm will get its water supply from Chitwi dam, which is currently under construction.
Nansanga Correctional Farm will source its water from Musangashi dam while Lubambala farm will be watered by Lubambala stream.
It is without doubt that the installation of centre pivots in ZCS farms will enable them to engage in massive off-season farming and increase their production levels.