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Chinese-Funded, Constructed Dams Prioritized in Zimbabwe’s Irrigation and Energy Plan

The Gwayi-Shangani and Kunzvi dams that are among those in Zimbabwe's acceleration program.

Zimbabwe is accelerating the construction of 12 large dams to irrigate at least 350,000 hectares by 2025 and generate hydropower while also providing potable water.

The acceleration plan is meant to increase land acreage under irrigation with farmers in Zimbabwe expected to benefit in a shift from relying solely on rain-fed agriculture. In the plan, construction of the dams will be prioritized.

Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Minister Anxious Masuka said on Tuesday that they had reviewed all the dams under construction for the exercise.

Gwayi-Shangani is 70% complete and is among the dams under the acceleration plan. State-owned China International Water and Electric Corporation (CIWE) is undertaking construction works of the dam funded in a joint venture between Oldstone Investments (Zimbabwean Investment vehicle) and China Sunlight Africa.

The dam is meant to generate 6MW of electricity, provide Bulawayo with water and irrigate projects along the water pipeline.

The $109 million Kunzvi dam, whose works are undertaken by a Chinese contractor, China Nanchang Engineering, is 33% complete. The dam on the confluence of the Nyagui and Nora rivers in Goromonzi is funded through a loan from China.

Zimbabwe has long-term plans to support smallholder irrigation aimed at boosting food and agricultural production while also harnessing water for domestic and industrial use.

Masuka who called on farmers to embrace the Pfumvudza/Intwasa program, an intensive conservation agriculture practice said that the practice would help mitigate climate change at the smallholder level.

“In 2020, we had 176,000 hectares of land under irrigation. Presently, we have close to 200,000 hectares under irrigation, indicating progress. Our goal is to increase this figure to 350,000 hectares by 2025,” said Masuka.

Zimbabwe has committed $213 million to drinking and irrigation through the construction of several dams with the lion’s share of the funding, $153 million, going to building new irrigation and fisheries infrastructure.

Other major projects include Semwa in Rushinga which is wholly funded by the Zimbabwean government, the Tuli Manyange project undertaken by CIWE, Ziminya, Defe, and Muchekeranwa, Dande whose contractor is CIWE, Guruve, Mbada undertaken by Nanchang Engineering and Bindura Dams.

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? Zimbabwe’s electricity access as of 2020 was 52.75%, a 5.97% increase from 2019. More than 40% of the 15.2 million Zimbabweans are without access to power. Additionally, the country has been smarting from the effects of climate change which has hit its agricultural productivity.

Building dams is one of the ways to address the multi-prong challenges of electricity access and water for irrigation and domestic use. The plan is one of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s leadership highlights.

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