Farmers are not happy with the way in which Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) is handling water management in the country.
They have accused the authority of failing to maintain dams and other water bodies since it took over the mandate.
The authority is also being accused of neglecting water infrastructure despite charging exorbitant maintenance fees.
The farmers’ concerns come as a reaction after the recent reduction of raw water tariffs by Zinwa for A2, A1 and communal farmers.
The tariffs, whose purpose is to raise funds to maintain and protect dams and other water sources, were reduced by between 27 and 56 percent and became effective on December 1 last year.
A2 farmers who used to pay $6,82 per megalitre (1 million litres) of water are now paying $5. A1 farmers used to pay $5 per megalitre but are now paying $3 while communal farmers are now required to pay $2 instead of $4,50 per megalitre.
The reduction has been condemned as insignificant. Farmers contend that the latest tariffs are still too high.
President of Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union, Mr Wonder Chabikwa, said the tariffs are particularly high considering that farmers have too many other costs to meet.
“Raw water tariffs remain high despite the decrease, especially for A2 farmers,” he said.
“For those farmers who own their dams, it is better because the tariffs are low but for those who use Zinwa’s dams, the price is about 10 times higher.
“Most of the irrigation is happening at the large farms and A2 farms where the dams are run by Zinwa. We have many other costs like electricity and inputs and therefore the reduction was not really significant.”
Mr Chabikwa said after the fast-track land reform programme, Zinwa took over the dams that are at various farms but is falling short in maintaining them.
Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) executive director, Mr Paul Zakariya concurred with Mr Chabikwa and said that the water management system is now weak, hence the gradual disappearance of key water sources such as the Save River.
“Technically speaking, any reduction is welcome but in the first place, we need to know why the tariffs are there and their intended purpose, otherwise people won’t pay,” he said.
“You would also want to question if the funds are being used for their intended purpose. The truth here is that farmers are not really happy with Zinwa because it has not been doing enough to justify its charges and that is why a lot of farmers have not been paying.
“There is no maintenance, our water sources are gone, the dams are not being repaired, yet we are being told to pay these charges.
“Look at what has happened to Save River. Nothing really concrete is being done to reclaim it.”
Zinwa is, however, convinced that the reduction will go a long way in making it easy for farmers to go about their operations.
The authority argues that the tariffs reduction will trigger more irrigation, especially since rain-fed agriculture is no longer reliable due to the unpredictable rainfall patterns.
Zinwa corporate communications and marketing manager, Marjorie Munyonga said the move is in sync with other Government programmes that are aimed at improving the country’s agricultural performance. The Government has been distributing irrigation equipment sourced through bilateral arrangements with various countries.
Ms Munyonga also dismissed fears that the reduction of tariffs will put a strain on water bodies, She said there is enough water to sustain irrigation.
“The anticipated increase in raw water uptake will not necessarily put a huge strain on the country’s water bodies since some of the water bodies have more than enough water to meet irrigation demand. These dams are almost full and are holding water from previous seasons,” she said.
“Over and above that, Zinwa has a robust water allocation framework guided by the law and the principles of equity and fairness. All irrigating farmers are expected to enter into water abstraction agreements with Zinwa before they can take water from the dams. These agreements will legalise their water usage as they will be given specific allocations to adhere to.”
Ms Manyonga, however, admitted that most farmers have not been paying their raw water bills, adding that farmers currently owe the authority money running into millions of dollars.
Last week, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa told Parliament that Government is now in the process of acquiring equipment to construct dams in order to improve the country’s water harvesting techniques.
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