HARARE, ZIMBABWE - The International Fund for Agricultural Development, a United Nations agency, is set to make its first investment in Zimbabwe in several years. The president of IFAD visited Zimbabwe this week and said the agency hopes to revive the country's agricultural sector after years of decline.
One project IFAD is looking at is the Nyaitenga irrigation project. It lies in the impoverished Mutoko rural area, east of Harare, and was started in 1999 with funding from IFAD.
Winnet Kapondoro, 37, says the project has improved her life.
Kapondoro says so much has changed since she became part of this project. She says after selling produce, such as carrots, she and others do not have many financial problems.
Kapondoro says she is paying school fees for her three children, including one now at the University of Zimbabwe, through her earnings from the project.
But Kapondoro and fellow farmers say the engine that pumps water from the dam is no longer working properly and needs repairs that will cost a lot of money.
Visiting IFAD President Gilbert Houngbo says his agency plans to fund such projects, now that IFAD has normalized relations with Zimbabwe.
The U.N. agency had suspended Zimbabwe after it defaulted on nearly $20 million in loans.
Houngbo declined to say whether any of the funds have been repaid, but he did say that if a country is "in a really hard place," the loan can be changed to a grant and the country can qualify for more funding.
"When you have to suspend a country, be it Zimbabwe or any other, it is very, very painful," Houngbo said. "But you have to understand that we have to be fiscally responsible. Our objective is not to make money but to provide rural finance. We always target communities that are deemed to be the poorest in the country. We focus on rural transformation."
Vangelis Haritatos, Zimbabwe's junior minister of agriculture, who accompanied Houngbo to Mutoko, said President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government wants to revive the farm sector, which was once the backbone of Zimbabwe's economy.
"We are urging farmers to diversify, we are saying grow your maize (Zimbabwe's staple crop) but also have cotton and small grains. Have these produces, which require less water than bigger grains do," Haritatos said. "But us as government we are investing heavily in water investment, water farming. We know El Nino is coming in, so when we utilize water for wheat, soyas, water is available. That is what we are trying to do to mitigate the climatic changes."
IFAD says it is allocating $41 million to Zimbabwe for the next three years for the country to revive agriculture.