Farmers cry foul over water theft

HARARE - The Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) is struggling to contain rampant illegal water abstraction along rivers and irrigation canals in the Lowveld, resulting in the parastatal losing substantial revenue.

According to the Water Act (2002), all individuals, organisations and companies are required to obtain a licence to abstract water from any surface water or ground water source in Zimbabwe except those using it for domestic and primary use.

Hundreds of black farmers contracted by Zimbabwe units of South Africa’s Tongaat Hullett to supply hundreds of thousands of tonnes of cane are up in arms with Zinwa for failing to curb the illegal water abstraction.

Tongaat runs two  sugar mills in the Lowveld with a combined milling capacity to crush nearly 5 million tonnes of cane annually and produce over 640 000 tonnes of sugar.

Triangle is wholly-owned by Tongaat, which also has a 50,3 percent stake in Hippo Valley.

“Some of the water is abstracted from the allocation for which we would have already paid,” said Zimbabwe Sugarcane Farmers Association (ZSFA) chairperson Admore Veterai.

“Much water is being lost in transit due to neglect and illegal abstraction. Zinwa should be monitoring the canals and all water channels but you can drive all the way up the canal and you do not see a Zinwa official on the ground.

“The canals are currently lined with green fields irrigated with abstracted water. We have had to take it upon ourselves to track them down. If people need water, they should pay for it and it is Zinwa’s job to make sure they do,” he said.

Zinwa corporate communications manager Marjorie Munyonga said: “Abstraction of water from irrigation canals by unregistered consumers is part of the challenges Zinwa and sugar cane estates and farmers in the Lowveld face. This challenge is a result of people settled along the canals who abstract water from the canals for domestic needs or for purposes of watering their gardens.

“This has been rampant mainly in the Manjirenji System which delivers water to Mkwasine.”

Apart from this challenge, Munyonga said there has been an additional problem of water losses in the Mkwasine system following the pull-out by a local company which used to manage the system, leaving the A2 farmers there to manage the distribution of water in the fields.

“Zinwa is already working with the concerned A2 farmers with a view to introduce its personnel to administer the distribution and this arrangement is expected to be operationalised by November 1, 2017.”

She said the illegal abstraction of water along the canals may compromise the revenue Zinwa realises from the Lowveld since farmers with agreements may end up failing to get the allocations.

“Ideally, all raw water users are supposed to be registered to allow for the efficient and optimum water resources planning.

“The authority will also intensify surveillance along the canals to ensure that unregistered use of water is minimised,” she added.

The Lowveld, with massive cane plantations spread across the flat floor of a fertile valley which produces all of the country’s sugar, probably has Zimbabwe’s greatest demand for irrigation water and is Zinwa’s cash cow.

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