Categories: Articles, Resource managementPublished On: 17th October 2023

Amid water scarcity: Plot owners in Bulawayo turn to groundwater for farming

By 3 min read

Zimbabwe’s second main city has long faced water troubles, effectively stifling agricultural activity. Water shedding has been a daily reality, putting brakes on any ambitious farming activities at a time when many here are turning to agriculture as a means of self-sufficiency.

While some low-density areas established during the country’s Federation years, long before independence in 1980 had boreholes sunk within their premises, they became derelict for lack of maintenance. The city’s old low-density areas are known for plots where farming activities were part of the once-thriving local economies. However, as years passed, the infrastructure was neglected and fell into disuse.

But with renewed interest in agriculture, new homeowners and tenants renting land are rehabilitating the old boreholes while some are sinking new boreholes altogether. In a country where millions are without formal jobs, farming has become one of the major areas of self-sufficiency. With the majority of farming activities relying on rainwater, this in turn has limited all-year-round agriculture production.

When Timon Sibanda decided to embark on what he calls “serious farming” in a suburb previously known for thriving market gardening projects, his first worry was water.

“There already was a borehole that hadn’t been maintained for years. I had to make arrangements to get it working,” Timon said.

Over the years, Zimbabwe has increasingly turned to groundwater for both agriculture and domestic use despite earlier concerns about the unregulated sinking of boreholes. This was raised by local municipalities and experts worried about depleting groundwater levels amid concern that too many boreholes could threaten future groundwater stocks. But local authorities seem to have had a rethink as borehole-sinking companies can be seen crisscrossing the city virtually daily.

“We are aware of boreholes being sunk across the city, especially for agriculture purposes,” a city councillor told ProAgri. “What the municipality does is work to ensure that these boreholes do not violate any bylaws, for example being sunk in township residencies. The municipality already has several boreholes it sunk in those areas,” the councillor said.

As water shortages persist, the Bulawayo municipality is deploying water browsers to residents across the length and breadth of the city, but this water is not enough for agricultural activities. However, for farming activities to thrive, access to adequate water supplies remains of paramount importance for aspiring farmers such as Mavis Bhebhe. She plants a variety of crops for resale at local supermarkets and has invested in sinking a borehole in a low-density suburb. She has created a green garden oasis amid dry conditions that have become typical of this part of the country.

Seedlings project.

 “Sinking a borehole is quite expensive but if you plan to make farming a viable undertaking, you have no choice,” she said.

The process involves applying to the local municipality for approval, then surveying the groundwater levels on the spot where the borehole will be sunk, and finally, the drilling and sinking itself. The municipality says it keeps records of all boreholes sunk around the city and each borehole must be registered to keep track of over-exploitation of the natural resource.

“Many people, including farmers, think groundwater is infinite, but we have many cases where farmers are left counting their losses after boreholes dried up,” the councillor said.

For now, ambitious farmers look to groundwater for relief, and as the rainy season approaches, agriculture activities are expected to peak, albeit amid fears of yet another El Nino-induced drought.

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