The Sunday Mail
The Chilonga people are an angry lot. They feel the gods have turned their backs on them.
They say they are suffering because Runde River decided to change its course, denying them access to the water that they have drained to no end since 1965.
“It was some nine years ago that we started noticing the shift, where we would normally irrigate our fields all-year round, we could only irrigate during the rainy season. Then two years ago, the river decided to use the other channel and we were left with no water,” explained Tawanda Bara Masimbe, an extension officer for the scheme.
Though the farmers are quick to blame the changes in climate for their woes, arguing that the inconsistent rainfall patterns might be the reason why there is not much water in the river, heavy siltation might have been the main reason why the river changed its course. On either side of the low-lying bridge that links Chilonga with Hippo Valley Estates and Chiredzi town are huge deposits of sand, deposits that have blocked the free passage of water.
The dry channel has left the submersible pumps that used to power the irrigation scheme hanging in the air, with nothing to suck but just air.
Boasting over 300 farmers, with each farmer having a holding of, on average, a hectare, the Chilonga Irrigation Scheme has been running since 1965 and been the livelihood of not only the farmers but the residents surrounding it as well as supplying produce as far afield as Chiredzi, Masvingo and Bulawayo.
“Now we don’t know what to do, except wait for the seasonal rains, something which we have done over the past two years,” bemoaned Masimbe.
In an effort to mitigate the situation, the farmers made contributions and hired an excavator from Chiredzi Rural District Council to scoop out the sand, with the hope of re-opening of the channel.
Not only was the exercise futile, it was also expensive but the farmers could not see the desired result. This left them with no option but to look up to central Government.
“This irrigation is a national project and of national importance,” said one farmer, “and we cannot be lying to ourselves that we will be able to rehabilitate this river. This exercise is beyond us and we feel Government should come in and see what can be done.”
Indeed, engineers from the Zimbabwe National Water Authority, Masvingo office, recently visited the scheme for an assessment.
“They said they will compile their report and forward it to their head office and we have not heard from them since,” said Masimbe.
Lying in Natural Region V, characterized by erratic rainfall patterns, hot temperatures and low humidity, the changing of channels by the Runde River has compounded the situation for communal farmers who have a host of climatic challenges to contend with.
When the irrigation was running at full throttle, the scheme saw a viable rotation of crops, which included wheat and green mealies during winter, groundnuts and grain maize during summer as well as tomatoes and vegetables throughout the year.
“We used to supply to even as far as Bulawayo but that lifeline has been cut. Even if you look at the skies, the rains are not promising to come any time soon, and because of the unpredictability of rain, we don’t even know what to sow or when to sow.
“Our lives have been affected and until such a time when we get our lifeline back, we are somehow doomed,” said Phineas Muguva, a farmer.