By Dr Tafataona Mahoso
THE failure of the water sector to articulate a clear pro-active role in Command Agriculture has its roots in the Rhodesian legacy and in resistance to the Second Chimurenga, that is the African land reclamation and resettlement revolution.
To give the specific example of Mutasa Rural District and the area once irrigated by the 60-km long Odzani River Canal, the Odzi Sub-catchment Council’s absence from the Command Agriculture programme can be understood by looking at its recent history.
l The Odzi Sub-catchment Council has done nothing to secure and protect the catchment of the Odzani River, which is supposed to supply the Odzani River Canal with water all-year round, although it boasts being a Sub-catchment Council.
Farmers have never seen the council seek the co-operation of EMA, ZINWA and the security sector for the purpose of protecting that catchment area from destruction.
Probably the same can be said of its main umbrella body, the Save Catchment Council, given the disastrous state of the Save River at present.
l The Odzi Sub-catchment Council was hostile to resettled A2 farmers when they tried to access their fair share of canal water along the Odzani River Canal.
The Council misled resettled farmers, claiming that they had to apply for new water permits as if they were starting new farms in a virgin jungle. That was not the law.
l Once the law was clarified as to the status of farmers resettled along the canal, the council tried to divide farmers entitled to water from the canal by using those within the upper reaches of the canal (who normally got more water than they needed despite the gross maladministration) against farmers at the lower end of the canal who watched their dams gradually drying up with the canal.
l The Odzi Sub-catchment Council failed to operationalise Section 18 of Statutory Instrument 47 of 2000 with regard to the Odzani River Canal and the Rhodesian-day relic called Odzani Irrigation Company (ORIC).
The result was that both ZINWA and the Council pretended that the 60-km canal was being run effectively and legally under ORIC by-laws.
But ORIC by-laws were antiquated, illegal and ineffective, having been drawn up in Rhodesia and for a few white Rhodesian farmers on June 13 1961.
The so-called by-laws were ultra-vires the Water Act of 1998 and the Zimbabwe Constitution.
Faced with these challenges, the resettled farmers asked one of their own to explain their frustrations and present proposals for a way forward to Odzi Sub-catchment Council, Save Catchment Council, ZINWA and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate.
The Permanent Secretary, in September 2015, wrote back to the farmers’ representative instead of writing to the regulator, the Odzi Sub-catchment Council.
It was only after Odzi Sub-catchment Council, Save Catchment Council, ZINWA and Ministry officials failed to point to exact rules, regulations, procedures or by-laws operationalising Section 18 of SI 47 of 2000 that the farmers approached the Secretary through a volunteer representative.
When it became clear that no precise and relevant answer was forthcoming, the farmers then drafted three documents for the purpose of outlining the sort of clarity they were looking for. These documents included a Legal Framework; a draft constitution for the water users (ORCA); and a draft Operational Agreement Between the Odzi Sub-catchment Council and ORCA, indicating how council officials and workers were to relate to ORCA workers and farmers operationally on a day-to-day basis.
To illustrate the clarity which the farmers were looking for, they used the example of the Ministry of Home Affairs who oversee the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and the Ministry of Local Government who oversee City Councils, Town Councils, Local Boards and Rural Councils.
These councils have their own municipal police as well as neighbourhood watch volunteers but they do not work in a legal vacuum.
The Odzani River Canal was a resource which the resettled farmers inherited with the farms on which they are resettled. Failure by officials and regulators to operationalise SI 47 of 2000 was robbing the resettled farmers of their right to water and preventing the same farmers from supporting optimally current and future Government food security programmes.
Three illustrations can be given to demonstrate the lack of clarity from the point of view of water users as clients of the Ministry:
l While Section 18 of SI 47 of 2000 required the Odzi Sub-catchment Council as regulator to take over the functions of the Odzani River Irrigation Company (ORIC), which was an old water board in 2000, the resettled farmers discovered through research that the old water board was still functioning and trying to enforce by-laws on water use dated June 13 1961 which were ultra vires the Zimbabwe Constitution, the Water Act and current laws in general. This was still the case in January 2015.
l The ORIC by-laws of 1961 served a very clear purpose in Rhodesia and there was a glaring need in 2015 for similar rules to be administered by the Sub-catchment Council consistent with current law. Such rules or by-laws did not exist and it was obvious that Section 47 of SI 47 of 2000 had not been operationalised to cascade the Water Act to the operational level where the farmer needs protection.
The implications of all this for food security and access to water are that one resettled farmer for instance accepted the Minister’s letter offering him land in September 2009 and occupied the farm by the beginning of 2010. But it took almost two years for the procedure for implementing his access to water to be explained after dozens of visits to both ORIC (the old water board) and the Sub-catchment Council which ended at ZINWA.
l The Client Service Charter which the Ministry pledged to the Office of the President and Cabinet provided ‘Integrated Water Resources Planning, Development and Management’ as one of the Ministry’s key functions. It also included farmers such as those who formed ORCA among the Ministry’s key clients. The charter also named among its key obligations to clients the important values of ‘clarity and consistency of policies’. Lastly, the Client Service Charter of the Ministry says “Services that cannot be provided promptly will be availed within five working days.”
l Another unanimous point of agreement among the farmers was that they would be happy to see their proposed rules adopted, modified, gazetted and enforced by the Sub-catchment Council as long as that would help to stem the chaos and canal destruction taking place now.
As a result of the farmers’ wish to participate fully in the Command Agriculture programme now, farmers in the area recently inquired as to whether the then chairman of Odzi Sub-catchment Council in 2015 did forward their petition to the Permanent Secretary as agreed on November 20 2015. They found out that the petition was never sent to the Ministry. However, the Ministry was fully aware of most of the issues through visits to the same by the farmers’ representative from January to August 2015.
Several conclusions can be reached from the case of farmers resettled along the Odzani River Canal.
l As far back as 2014, resettled farmers could foresee a Government programme such as the current Command Agriculture initiative and they could envision how best to support it and the means to do it.
l The Command Agriculture initiative can leave a permanent legacy in the area if some of its resources could be used to provide cement lining and piping for sections of the canal which are most vulnerable to cattle-crossing, vandalism or water theft.
l The cost of revamping the Odzani River Canal is very small compared to the potential for a 60-km green belt which can result or compared to the investment required at Tokwe Mukorsi.
l Resettled farmers have always been ready to support Government food security initiatives.
l Finally, the biggest input required is compliance with current laws on water access and use. This is the responsibility of agencies under the Ministry in collaboration with the security sector, local authorities, the Ministry of Lands and the farmers.