Water use by farmers in Zim: Part Three  …dispossession of title over water


SETTLER-farmer-initiated furrow irrigation took place in Rhodesia with the help of missionaries, between 1912 and 1927. 

To help white farmers further develop their irrigation schemes, the government of Rhodesia took over in 1928. 

While they retained control of the irrigation schemes, the management of communal irrigation schemes was taken over by the government in 1935.

Expansion in irrigation in the commercial agricultural sector was aided by the availability of low interest finance that was made available for dam and weir construction, borehole sinking and soil conservation.  

Arrangements were also made to supply settlers with cement at discounted rates and rebates of up to 25 percent on the cost of building dams and storage weirs.  

Some commercial farmers also benefitted from low interest loans and direct expenditure by the Rhodesian government on irrigation infrastructure.  

The Rhodesian government also contributed to road and railway infrastructure networks. 

Thus, public finance consequently played a significant role in entrenching water resources in the white commercial farming sector. 

In the mid-1930s, in a change in policy after the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 was amended by the colonial State, communal resettlement areas were developed together with indigenous irrigation schemes to accommodate as many indigenes as possible to enable better control over native activities and create more space for white farmers; stem rural-urban migration to escape agricultural taxes; stop competition between settler and indigenous farmers by increasing control over their production and ensure food security for the native population.  

This enforced native production within the settler-systems of policy and legal controls. Between 1946-1956, indigenous irrigation schemes were further developed in the communal resettlement areas.  

From 1957 to 1965, these developments were curtailed due to cost considerations.

In 1932, the first water charge for natives was introduced and doubled in 1942.

To encourage water conservation, a system of subsidies was introduced in 1936.

From 1935 to the 1950s, there was increased government control on smallholder irrigation. 

This resulted in increased pressure on irrigators to give up dry land farming and not leave irrigated plots, to produce surplus food crops for the market and later cash crops, to practise prescribed crop rotations, plant on specific dates and pay water rates. 

The promulgation of the Natural Resources Act of 1941 prohibited the cultivation of lands within 30m of a riverbank. 

This constrained the development of irrigation furrows by Africans as they fell within this restriction.  

Furthermore, all existing furrows and dambo cultivation were labelled illegal.  

The Department of Native Agriculture, established in 1944, was responsible for enforcing conservation practices in native agriculture. Failure to do so resulted in legal action — this was usually the arrest of ‘the offending farmer’

Another issue that arose in the implementation of irrigation schemes in Rhodesia was the appropriate size of the plots to be allocated to the indigenous people.  

Two acres were deemed sufficient; this allowed a farmer to produce enough food to feed himself and his family without taking up too much time and thus enable him to provide cheap labour for the settlers.  

Plot sizes were also deliberately planned by the government to facilitate the resettlement of as many people as possible and to encourage the adoption of intensive cultivation.

Following debates in 1966, the standard size of plots for indigenous people was set at four acres for male plot holders and two acres for widows.

The allocation of plots to women in general, however, raised concerns in the Department of Native Affairs as women were deemed to be ‘fully engaged in domestic activities in the home’.  

Widows were allocated two acres of land on the basis that they provided for their families. Irrigators were required to meet some of the costs of the irrigation developments.

In order to achieve its resettlement policy, the Rhodesian government continued to subsidise rural irrigation developments.

But in 1958, there were concerns over the viability of these irrigation schemes.

Costs were rising; worsened by the fact that the irrigation schemes were expensive to operate and maintain.

This was because they were mainly constructed in difficult and unsuitable locations in pursuit of political expediency. 

In 1965, the Tribal Trust Land Development Corporation (TILCOR) was implemented to foster indigenous development through the establishment of a network of growth points.

Irrigation developments took place in areas served by these growth points.

In 1973, in order to eliminate subsidies for irrigation developments and discourage poor producers from remain on irrigation schemes, the water rate was increased.

The dispossession of individual African title over water also extended to irrigation infrastructure.

For example, in Manicaland Province, two irrigation furrows owned by the Mutambara community were appropriated by the Native Department of Agriculture.

The Mutambara community resisted the takeover of the scheme with a measure of success.

 Post independence, in 1980, intervention by the Government of Zimbabwe was premised on three areas, namely: water resource management, irrigation and soil-water conservation.

A strategy of rural growth, mostly based on irrigation, was introduced by the newly appointed majority rule Government.

 Dr Tony M. Monda BSc, DVM, is currently conducting veterinary epidemiology, agronomy and food security and agro-economic research in Zimbabwe. 

For views and comments, email: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com.


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