MBERENGWA’S biggest irrigation scheme Chimwe-Chegato is on the verge of collapse after crops worth thousands of dollars wilted following the recent cutting of electricity and water supplies to the project.
Chimwe-Chegato is the biggest surviving irrigation scheme in the drought-prone Mberengwa district and benefits over 200 households.
It was established in 1994 after the construction of Chimwe Dam to service the local population that was yearly subjected to perpetual droughts due poor rainfall patterns.
When Southern Eye visited the scheme last week, Chief Mposi Sadiki of the Remba clan had no kind words for Zesa Holdings and the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) accusing them of irrationally disconnecting their services resulting in his subjects losing thousands of dollars in potential earnings after their sugar bean plants withered.
Chief Mposi said it was sad that about 64 hectares of planted sugar beans wilted at an advanced stage due to arrears the local people owed Zesa and Zinwa simply because the two authorities declined to negotiate payment plans with the villagers.
“This is a mere human being who is selfish and unpatriotic. A normal human being cannot disconnect services to a plant that is at its peak knowing that the same plant is the one that would cover the debt after harvest,” said Chief Mposi.
“My people depend on farming in the irrigation scheme for income. They invested a lot of inputs like seed, labour, chemicals and fertilizers, but to my surprise after all the effort, some so-called authorities who are even operating within my land disconnect services resulting in the huge loss,” said the fuming chief.
The irrigation scheme owes Zesa and Zinwa $37 000 and $27 000 respectively.
A Zinwa uMzingwane catchment area official who spoke on condition of anonymity said they had disconnected water on May 10 and reconnected it two weeks later after negotiations had resolved that the scheme would pay $1 000 a month, with 25% going towards the monthly bill and 75% servicing outstanding arrears.
“As the water authority, we follow procedures. If a client fails to pay we disconnect our services. It’s unfortunate in this case that some crops wilted, but we cannot be blamed for that as the scheme was supposed to make payments before tragedy befell them,” said the official.
Chimwe-Chegato scheme chairperson Ngonidzashe Shoko said they were not amused because just about the same time that Zinwa reconnected them, Zesa cut off power used to pump water to the irrigation.
Shoko said while the Zesa bill for April reflected the pre-mentioned figure, the scheme made a subsequent payment of $957, but were shocked to receive news that their bill had escalated to $60 000 in less than a month.
“The bill we had as evidence revealed that we owe Zesa $37 000, but when we went to arrange a payment plan the bill had risen to $60 000.
“We tried to negotiate with the authorities that they reconnect power to save our crop while work out a suitable plan but they were adamant resulting in our current predicament,” said Shoko.
He said since they generated income from their produce, their prospects of getting any income were gloomy and scheme members would not be able to pay anything this year due to the loss.
Ward 12 councillor Trust Shava said the disconnections became a problem when Zinwa took over Chimwe Dam about six years ago.
Shava said State authorities must consider that the dam was constructed to benefit the people and not vice versa.
He said many people sacrificed their farming and grazing land to allow for the construction of the dam and irrigation scheme.
“We are no longer benefiting from the scheme with the way Zinwa and Zesa are handling the issue. Are they forgetting that we also gave our land for this project’s success? We are no longer benefitting from a dam constructed in our area. We are now being milked and as a district we feel neglected by the government,” said Shava.
Shava said he foresees the collapse of the scheme.
A few years ago, another irrigation scheme Mundi-Mataga in Mberengwa collapsed in a similar manner leaving more than 500 households in limbo.
Chimwe-Chegato irrigation scheme had helped members to pay school fees for their children and provide the community with food at reasonable prices.
The scheme produced beans, wheat and potatoes, among others.