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Rufaro Irrigation Scheme, Zimbabwe

The Project

In this project, we document and study the historical and contemporary changes in the form and materiality of the water infrastructure in the Rufaro irrigation scheme as an entry point to shed light on the subtle ways in which water and power are (re)defined and (re)distributed in attempts to access, share and/or protect water sources. In particular, we study the material changes that have occurred to the irrigation infrastructure including pumps, motor and pipes used for groundwater abstraction, water storage facilities, the infield irrigation infrastructure-canals, pipes- and the changes in the agronomic practices.

Location of Rufaro Irrigation Scheme in Masvingo Province, Zimbabwe (Credit: Tavengwa Chitata - 2020)

This way we locate the different ways of learning with the infrastructure and practice-informed ways of knowing groundwater as well as the rationalities behind everyday practices informed by plural and complex institutional arrangements.

 Farmers helping each other with maintaining the ridges for water to flow well in the furrows. (Credit: Tavengwa Chitata - 2020)


Zimbabwe's post-independence government embarked on a large-scale land reform process to redistribute land to the indigenous population. During the colonial occupation, people belonging to the Ndebele and Shona tribes were removed from fertile areas to more agro-ecologically challenging land, freeing the fertile land for settler agriculture and ranching. After independence in 1980, the government aimed to buy fertile land from settler farmers of European descent to resettle Zimbabwe's indigenous population.

Caring for the soil: A perforated 2-litre bottle fitted to the end of a reinforced steel horse pipe and placed on top of a grass mulch/mat to reduce the erosive force of water during irrigation (Credit: Tavengwa Chitata - 2020).

As part of this resettlement programme, a collective farming cooperative was established in 1983 to run the Rufaro irrigation scheme. The irrigation scheme is located in Masvingo Province, South-East of Zimbabwe. The Rufaro community relies solely on groundwater for irrigated agriculture, domestic use, and animal watering.  Through time the water infrastructure of the irrigation scheme has gone through multiple changes, both as part of large-scale planned rehabilitations of the system and everyday improvisations of operators and farmers to make the water flow.

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