Tate and Lyle Award for Sustainable Development
Rio Tinto Zimbabwee
The arid Lowveld of south-east Zimbabwe was hard hit by the devastating drought of 1991-2. Yet, amid the devastation, the lands of the Nyajena people continued to make a brave show of verdant cultivation.
This oasis in the desert is the Rupike Irrigation Scheme designed and built by the Rio Tinto Foundation for 200 farming families who are neighbours of the Renco gold mine-flagship of Rio Tinto's Zimbabwe operations.
The Rio Tinto Foundation, funded by a gift of 2,000,000 shares in Rio Tinto Zimbabwe, decided on the project in 1986. The Nyajena's request for a dam and irrigation scheme addressed the needs of an area where water is the most cherished resource. The 3.8 million cubic metre Tugwane Dam was designed to irrigate 200 acres of land, one acre to each family.
The Foundation engaged an agricultural engineer, Alan Norton, to plan the irrigation system which comprises 600 movable overhead sprinklers. With his wife Debbie he also headed the training scheme for the Rupike farmers. The Foundation provided two tractors, a grader and tillage units to ensure that the lands were properly cleared and prepared for good cropping. Basic agricultural training was enhanced by training in harvesting, storage and marketing, all new skills for the cattle-owning Nyajena.
When the worst drought in living memory struck the Lowveld in 1991, the Rupike farmers were well equipped to combat its effects. They had the water, the expertise and the wherewithal for sustaining their farming. In 1992, the Tugwane Dam dropped to 8 per cent of its capacity but that was still enough to keep the crops alive.
Besides maize and groundnuts, the Rupike farmers now grow winter wheat and a variety of vegetables. They sell surplus produce to the Renco Mine township, to trading stores and to passengers of buses running through the area. This provides each farmer with a cash income of Z$5000 in a good year.
The irrigation project has led to the development of the surrounding area. The 13 kilometre powerline to the Tugwane Dam also supplies electricity to the nearby business centre, schools, clinic and rural council facilities. The Rupike business centre now has four power-driven mills to grind cereals, a butcher's shop, a farm supply-and-implements business and a blacksmith's. The smith, who makes and repairs tools, was trained by the Foundation.
In keeping with its policy of handing over completed projects, the Rio Tinto Foundation will this year present the Tugwane/Rupike scheme to the Zimbabwean government. The farms will then manage the scheme with the help of a government-appointed supervisor.
Meanwhile, the Nortons will stay on to train the farmers in good management, using an innovative group method designed by Debbie Norton. "We are placing as much emphasis on training as we did on the engineering," says Peter Shortt, Executive Officer of the Foundation.
The Rupike scheme illustrates how sustainable development can be undertaken in Zimbabwe, The Senior Minister of Finance, Dr Bernard Chidzero, said of Rupike: "I wish every one of our companies would do the same."