Zimbabwe's farmers dig in to capture a deluge
With no access to groundwater, and no help from local authorities, farmers in drought-stricken Zimbabwe have grouped together to dig ponds to capture precious rainwater.
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But until someone figures out how to use that evidence to help Zimbabwe's smallholder farmers deal with the cycle of drought and flood, they will look for ways to help themselves — such as digging ponds and lakes.Skip to next paragraph
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"We have to find ways to trap the water, not just with our small buckets," says Sithabile Fuzwayo, another Esigodini smallholder. "Water is a serious problem and as long no one comes along to help, we will seek our own solutions."
Rainwater harvesting is nothing new among many communities in Zimbabwe, but it is usually done using small containers that are inadequate to meet longer-term needs of farmers.
The act of investing labor into digging the ground to trap the coming rain is an innovative step — one that more farmers might decide they have to take.
Despite the heavy downpours this season in normally low-rainfall areas around Bulawayo, the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) says not enough of the water has made it into supply dams, due to blockages in drainage systems.
For farmers like Zulu, Fuzwayo, and others, efforts to trap the water themselves seem the only viable solution.
Some environmentalists, however, warn that hand-dug rainwater harvesting ponds could potentially create long-term risks.
"It shows just how poorly the rain problem has been dealt with at local levels, in ways that could in fact bring catastrophic results," warned Gilmore Sithole, an environmentalist and agricultural extension officer with the country’s agriculture ministry. "We just cannot have people digging up the ground without proper monitoring. We have to imagine what kind of gaping holes will be left in the countryside when the dry season sets in."
But like other farmers, Zulu isn't thinking about the long-term risks of her pond. Her main concern is having enough water to keep her garden and livestock alive.
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According to the Zimbabwe Meteorological Services Department, the wet spell in the traditionally dry parts of the country's south is expected to continue into March.
This is the time when farmers should be preparing to harvest, and the continuing rainfall could damage crops. But that is a risk the farmers are willing to take if it means the chance to trap more water — and feel a little less helpless in the face of Zimbabwe's unpredictable weather.
"We no longer have any knowledge of the rain cycle," Zulu says. "But we welcome all the rain we can get."
• Madalitso Mwando is a journalist based in Harare, Zimbabwe.