Juggling with land, labour and cash: strategies of some resilient smallholder irrigators
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Researchers on irrigated agriculture in Zimbabwe have often lamented the low productivity in smallholder irrigation schemes, citing inadequate resources on the part of farmers. According to Rukuni (1984c) farmers often lack sufficient money and labour to deal with irrigated agriculture. Many irrigators have dryland plots which they continue to cultivate during the rainy season. At the same time these farmers have to be seen to be doing work in their irrigated plots. Many farmers’ children are in school most of the year and are not in a position to assist on the plot. Furthermore, irrigation means double cropping in any given year and this places heavy demands on a farmer’s resources. These factors, according to Rukuni (1984c) seem to obliterate the possibility of irrigation schemes realizing their full potential as projected by planners and scheme designers. Projected production levels are often set with little consideration for the local situation, that is, without taking into account the local pressures and realities with which people have to contend. These projections are therefore unrealistic. Rukuni (1984c) sees the unavailability of money for buying inputs and hiring labour as the main impediment in production, overlooking the possibilities which social relations bring into the production process. The social arrangements available to farmers offer alternatives, especially through exchange and other transactions which allow people to produce even when they lack cash. For instance, farmers with labour or draught power may not have irrigated plots but can exchange these resources for the use of irrigated plots for a specified time. This means that irrigation farmers can produce even when there is no money. Such arrangements are often not visible. Neither do they easily lend themselves to quantification.