Engineers welcome women into former male stronghold

Being a woman is not a barrier in the predominately male field of engineering - as women have what it takes to make a difference. NELSON SIBANDA spoke to Vimbai Pachawo about prejudice in former male strongholds.

Vimbai Pachawo: Women should realise that the sky is the limit in irrigation engineering.
Vimbai Pachawo: Women should realise that the sky is the limit in irrigation engineering.

Vimbai Pachawo, 36, was one of only two women among the 20 irrigation engineers who graduated on Friday at the end of a three-month intensive training course in Harare. She is the Mashonaland West Provincial Irrigation Engineer.

“I am not frightened by the challenges that come with the engineering profession. They cut across the gender divide and can be overcome as they arise. I call upon women to join the profession as I have found male colleagues to be gender sensitive and very supportive of female engineers. Women should realise that the sky is the limit in engineering,” said Pachawo.

She said life as an irrigation engineer was made even easier by the fact that most farmers were women. After the training, which was organised by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN, with the EU playing a part in the facilitation and financing of both the course and follow-up application of skills, Pachawo said she was an irrigation expert.

The training included feasibility exercises, irrigation designs, construction, pump repairs, centre pivoting, prepare hose reels, financial and economic analysis, monitoring and evaluation.

Pachawo said it had empowered her to do soil and water surveying, social and economic analysis and to encourage gender participation in the implementation of irrigation projects.


The other woman engineer who graduated, Isabella Mushuku, 32, said she would make a difference in the community she serves as the principal engineer for Manicaland Province. She plans to redesign current irrigation projects to make them user-friendly to women farmers.

“As a woman engineer, I appreciate challenges faced by female farmers during night irrigation projects. I will help design the projects to be run during the day and reduce the risks faced by female farmers during night field work,” said Mushuku. She also called upon women to consider irrigation engineering as a career, saying the profession was exciting and challenging, as it demanded extensive travelling and good physical fitness.

Soneni Eulodia Nyamangara, acting deputy director responsible for research and training in the Ministry of Agriculture, told The Zimbabwean that the graduating engineers had learnt new practical engineering skills.


The course would add value to the country’s irrigation programs, as the graduates were better positioned to implement the government mandate. “The course produced fully-fledged engineers knowledgeable in all facets of irrigation schemes,” said Nyamangara, grateful that participants drawn from all provinces of the country including the headquarters, had acquired the skills and knowledge necessary for irrigation planning and successful implementation of food securing farming projects.

Nyamangara commended the female engineers who participated in the training for matching their male colleagues in whatever exercises they did. She hoped that similar trainings would be organised for other engineers around the country.

Zimbabwe last conducted such a comprehensive training for its engineers in 2005 due to lack of resources.

In another exclusive interview, Chimimba David Phiri, the FAO sub-regional coordinator for Southern Africa and FAO representative in Zimbabwe, said the course was specialised and the graduates were equipped with tools to do their work properly with a new way of thinking, as a lot had changed since the participants had completed their university education.


According to Phiri, some of the graduates would be directly involved in irrigation development projects in their areas of responsibility while others would be engaged in irrigation projects funded by the EU in Manicaland and Matabeleland provinces. Another team would be deployed under the Swiss-funded irrigation schemes in Masvingo Province.

“The Manicaland and Matabeleland projects cost $12 million dollars while that in Masvingo costs $6 million dollars. Zimbabwe will benefit in a big way as the dilapidated and silted irrigation infrastructure would be rehabilitated,” said Phiri, noting that Zimbabwe was the only country in the region benefiting from the projects.

Research by agriculture experts found that there was considerable dilapidation of irrigation infrastructure on resettled farms. The fast track land reform programme implemented by the government was blamed for the state of affairs ‘as it had a negative impact on farms infrastructure and equipment’.

Dilapidation of the infrastructure was partly attributed to underutilisation and lack of proper maintenance by most of the new farmers.

Post published in: Gender Equality

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