Zimbabwe : using “marginal water” to ease water scarcity, provide food and earn a living (AfricaFiles)

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Title: Marginal water used in Bulawayo
Author: Busani Bafana, Bulawayo
Category: Ecology
Date: 1/22/2010
Source: Inter Press Service News Agency
Source Website: http://www.ipsnews.net <http://www.africafiles.org/database/www.ipsnews.net>

African Charter Article# 24: All peoples shall have the right to a general satisfactory environment favorable to their development.

Summary & Comment: A project in Zimbabwe’s second city, Bulawayo, is creatively using “marginal water” to ease water scarcity while helping residents provide food and earn a living. AB

Water scarcity no obstacle to Bulawayo farmers


A project in Zimbabwe’s second city, Bulawayo, is creatively using “marginal water” to ease water scarcity while helping residents provide food and earn a living. Water scarcity has led urban farmers to turn to treated waste water to grow food within the city limits. Bulawayo’s water woes stem from both periodic droughts in the Matabeleland region and from the collapse of the aged, poorly-maintained municipality infrastructure serving this city of more than one million. But the shortage of water has not deterred urban farmers like Agnes Maziya. Maziya is one of the growing number of urban farmers growing vegetables and crops for residents.

“Using waste water has helped me to grow vegetables for sale,” Maziya told IPS. “I have used money from the sale of these vegetables to put my children through school. The project has made a difference for my family and I. “My wish now is to improve the variety of vegetables I grow here to include carrots, spinach, tomatoes cabbage and onions which will increase my income.” Maziya is one of about a thousand farmers who are part of a project to grow leaf vegetables such as rape, sugar beans and maize using treated waste water.

The 350-hectare Gum Tree Plantation Allotment project is a joint venture of the city of Bulawayo and the Municipal Development Partnership Eastern and Southern Africa (MDPESA) to use waste water to boost food security in the city. The project is situated in Hyde Park, in the western part of the city. The land has been divided into individual plots of 5,000 square metres and a cooperative section where farmers have been grouped together. Treated water is provided for free by council, with each group allocated between 4,500 and 5,000 litres of water on a weekly basis.

The water, according to MDPESA urban agriculture programme coordinator Takawira Mubvami, is treated using the radiation and conventional biological methods at the treatment works. Due to breakdowns, the level of treatment does not consistently meet World Health Organisation standards. The treated water supplied to the Gum Tree farmers comes from the Luveve and Cowdry Park treatment plants which are better in terms of performance, meeting WHO standards for waste water for irrigation 80 percent of the time. This does mean elevated health risks. Mubvami told IPS that his organisation trained farmers regarding these risks, but found most were already aware of the necessary precautions to be taken with treated waste water regarding what crops to grow and taking measures against skin diseases.

“The major challenge has been getting the right protective clothing for farmers,” Mubvami said. “Funds were not available. At the moment farmers use buckets to get water from the irrigation canal. This is not the ideal irrigation method. They should be using suction hoses for flood irrigation which will reduce the frequency of them coming into contact with the water. Plans are under way to introduce this.”
Only vegetables that have to be cooked – destroying any pathogens present in the water – before they can be eaten are grown. Crops like lettuce, tomatoes or carrots are not permitted.

A flood irrigation technique is used to channel water from the reservoir to the field using lined canals which reduce water lost to seepage and evaporation. The lining of the canal was the first phase funded by the MDPESA to improve the irrigation system at the plantation. It will be completed with the introduction of feeder suction hoses which will bring the water to the gardens from the canals. “The project enables our farmers to grow crops throughout the year because there is reliable water supply from waste water,” Job Ndebele, city director for engineering services, explained to IPS.

The use of marginal water is not very common in Zimbabwe. It is used to some degree in the capital Harare, but limited to watering cattle pastures. “Bulawayo has pioneered the use of the water for crops. They have actually reticulated the water to the gardens. This has been seen as being expensive by most local authorities in the country,” said Mubvami. Used correctly, treated waste water is building food security despite persistent water scarcity.

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Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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