Patrick Chitumba, Midlands Bureau Chief
THE target was around the first week of October for Mr Ezekiel Muchau to start taking his king onions, spinach and peas to the market.
There is a ready market in Shurugwi, Gweru and Zvishavane for fresh produce and it has been his trade from a tender age of around nine years under the supervision of his late father.
Since 1980 when his family migrated to Shurugwi from Zambia, this husband of five and father to 14 children has known no other job except tilling the land, and it has been paying well because he has managed to grow his family, fend for their needs and taken his children to school.
It is blazing hot as he goes around his plot to do nothing but just shed tears as his plants continue to wilt because of the unavailability of water.
The man had also prepared his land to plant maize seed under irrigation before the summer rains.
But now, the 50-year-old Mr Muchau can only pray that the floodgates of Heaven open up so he can salvage something from his plot.
Wilting under his watch are 45 000 heads of onions and an acre each of peas and spinach.
Mr Muchau said he was looking at selling 10 heads of onions for US$1, a bundle of spinach at US$1 and a kilogramme of peas for US$1.
He said he was hoping to realise about US$5 500 after selling his produce.
Unfortunately for him, illegal and legal mining activities up Mutevekwi River have resulted in the blocking of the river — a development that has seen water failing to flow down the river to the area where he normally drew it for irrigating his plants and household chores.
Farmer-miner conflict is on the increase in Shurugwi and the rest of the country amid calls for laws that promote the two sectors which need each other for the economic development of the country.
The miner needs food produced by the farmer and the farmer benefits from foreign currency which the country earns from mining be it gold, diamond or chrome.
Shurugwi is one of the richest mineral towns in Zimbabwe and is also home to the iconic Boterekwa.
Shurugwi lies in a mineral rich belt commonly known as the Great Dyke. This makes it one of the most mineral rich towns in the country. Chromite, Gold and Nickel are all mined in the area.
While mining and farming activities have been hailed for creating employment and bringing development to Zimbabwe, development is still being hampered by lack of access to clean and affordable water, a situation resulting in conflict in some communities like Shurugwi.
Notwithstanding economic empowerment efforts through land redistribution and the promotion of small-scale mining, communities in mining and farming areas are facing serious challenges, risks and conflicts emanating from water shortages.
Pollution is also affecting underground water sources, worsening the problem of water scarcity for both the farmers and the miners in this community and other surrounding areas.
Besides Mr Muchau, other farmers in Shurugwi are also reeling under the disempowering effects of inequitable water usage. Particularly pronounced during low rainfall periods, the struggle for water in this part of the Midlands province pits villagers, artisanal miners and big mines.
“I’m a farmer who has planted 45 000 onions, peas and spinach. We were preparing to plant some maize seed for green mealies which are in demand in December. But our operations are being negatively affected as the river from which we draw our water for irrigation and household chores has dried because of the effects of gold mining upstream,” said Mr Muchau.
He said they were now disheartened because besides artisanal miners, there was a company that was mining in the river.
“We’re now hopeless as our plants are wilting, which will result in a US$5 500 loss. We don’t expect to salvage anything from the plantation and this is a result of river bed mining taking place upstream. One can’t confront the miners as they are violent and machete-wielding,” said Mr Muchau.
“I have five wives and 14 children and have been farming from a tender age of nine since 1980 when my parents migrated from Zambia. I am what I am because of farming and we all can’t be miners. It’s my plea that miners also consider farmers because at the end of the day, we need each other.”
He said there is also a gold mine operating in the middle of the river.
“The dimensions are 150 metres to the left and 150 metres to the right of the river. That is 300 metres. They’re right in the middle of the river and we wonder how and why some officials would allow that,” said Mr Muchau.
Shurugwi district development co-ordinator Mr Langton Mupeta said efforts to remove artisanal miners and some big mines from Mutevekwi River which has dried up due to siltation were fruitless.
He said water sources in the district were being affected by mining activities of both
illegal and legal miners.
Mr Mupeta said the companies were not following Environmental Impact Assessment plans.
“There’s even irrigation equipment donated by the Government which is lying idle because the water sources have been besieged by miners and are drying up.
“There’s no way the farmers can’t compete with the miners. The mining companies mining in the river all have licences or papers to show and we wonder what’s happening,” he said.
Mr Mupeta said it was prudent that when officials decide to offer people mining or prospecting licenses, they must first come to the ground to avoid creating conflict between the miner and the farmer.
“There’s a problem, yes and the miners base their actions on the fact that they’re registered and mining takes precedence over farming,” he said.
“Farmers came to my office and appealed for help to remove illegal gold miners from Mutevekwi River where they get water for drip irrigation. The river is drying up because of siltation and if we ignore this problem, the production of vegetables from the area will be completely lost.
“In May, they dug a tunnel underneath Boterekwa Highway thereby pausing grave danger to the lives of travellers. A number of the miners were arrested but since then, the State has had to keep an eye on that section of the road because these miners may come again.”
Boterekwa Valley, which was famous for freshwater streams and various plant species, used to attract large numbers of tourists every year but today, the land has been turned up-side-down by artisanal miners and the water is polluted.
The current land degradation caused by the panners is only worsening the state of the roads.
Last week, Members of Parliament visited resettlement farms in Shurugwi on a fact- finding mission to assess the gravity of the farmer vs miner conflict and the impact of mining activities on the environment.
After receiving submissions from affected villagers, the MPs toured horticulture and mining projects.
The tour followed a petition lodged by rural women farmers through Woman and Land in Zimbabwe, to the August House calling on the legislators to promulgate laws that will resolve the conflict.
The women and WLZ earlier this month appeared before a joint portfolio committee on Lands, Water and Climate Change and on Mines and Mining Development where, they formally presented their petition and prayers.
WLZ national co-ordinator Mrs Thandiwe Chidavarume called on Parliament to push for the finalisation of the two Acts that is the Land Act and the Mines and Minerals Act to end the farmer- miner conflict.