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Agriculture: The river runs deep

The recent heavy rains have brought smiles to the people of Siphofaneni and surrounding areas. After many years of drought, these people will now harvest their own food. Food donations may be a thing of the past. A dam built in the area by Swade is overflowing. The river that feeds the dam has burst its banks. However, those living close to the dame fear that crocodiles and hippos might move in.
MANTOE PHAKATHI reports.

Pic of boy and girl looking at the swolen waters of the damThe recent downpour has convinced Elias Mamba, a Siphofaneni resident, that not only is he going to harvest his maize this year but he is going to get a good yield. After two decades of drought in the area with many farmers giving up on producing food for themselves because, after a lot of hard work tilling the soil, their crops would dry out because of the excessive heat and poor rainfall this year things look very different. All along this community was among the beneficiaries of food aid because they could hardly get anything from the fields.

“I guess these rains bring to an end our dependency on food aid because we could not harvest anything during the drought,” said Mamba. “For the first time in the history of this country, we can donate food to other countries.”

For the past 20 years, Siphofaneni and surrounding areas have been receiving food rations because of the scarcity of rainfall. Mamba, who is also the chairperson of Mganyaneni Farmers Association, is beaming from ear to ear because, for the first time since its completion, Lubovane Reservoir is spilling. The 1 400-hectare dam has reached its full capacity of 160 cubic metres while water continues to pour in. Pic on semi submerged dwelling“The dam has two spillways which enable the water to flow back to the river once it has reached its full capacity,” said Arthur Belsey, Lower Usuthu Small-holder Irrigation Project (Lusip) director. Constructed and managed by the Swaziland Agriculture and Water Development Enterprises (SWADE) for commercial farming for the poverty-stricken communities in the eastern part of the country, Lubovane Reservoir, is already irrigating 1 390 hectares of sugar-cane, which is the first phase of the agriculture project.

The irrigation scheme is part of the poverty alleviation initiative in the Lowveld of Swaziland whose main goal is to improve the standard of living of the people in the project area who are currently the poorest in the country.

Lusip is funded by seven organisations including the European Union, European Investment Bank, African Development Bank, Development Bank of Southern Nation Africa, Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, International Cooperation and Development Fund and the International Fund for Agriculture Development. 

Currently, 15 farmers associations with a membership of over 700 are part of the participants of this sugar-cane scheme that will benefit close to 5 000 people who are working on the first phase of the agriculture project.

About 500 hectares are under development for the cultivation of maize, vegetables, sweet potatoes and other crops that the communities would choose from time to time. Mamba’s Mganyaneni Farmers Association is working on a 60-hectare farm with a membership of 30 and will rake in E1.7 million, come harvest time in September.

Pic of semi submerged trees“We’re very happy that this dam is now full to the point of spilling and this gives us hope that the Lusip project will work for us,” said Mamba.

With the prolonged drought, like many of the community members, he was worried that the Great Usuthu River, which feeds the reservoir by up to 75 percent, and Umhlathuzane River by up to 25 percent, would dry up.  After many disappointing years of drought, the former cotton farmer said sceptics were saying the Usuthu River, the main feeder to the reservoir, would run out of water as SWADE tried to fill up the dam.

However, the ongoing rains have allayed those fears bringing a lot of excitement not only within Siphofaneni and surrounding areas but to the whole Kingdom. “The community went to view the dam and we’re optimistic that there are more opportunities to come from this asset other than just agriculture,” said Mamba. He said after reaching its full capacity, the dam now resembles an ocean something that the landlocked nation has to travel to neighbouring Mozambique or South Africa to experience.

SWADE is also working on studies to determine whether there is potential to start a tourism project around the dam. With fish already swimming in the dam, Belsey said there is also consideration to start water sports. “The dam is a vehicle to start other income-generation projects, of course determined by the community,” said Belsey.

While Mamba is excited over the abundance of water in the dam, Madodlwana Dlamini is living in fear. He fears his homestead will be submerged as the water level of the dam rises. “I’ve been spending sleepless nights since I’ve been noticing the water from the dam creeping to closer to my homestead,” said Dlamini.

Pic of Madodlwana Dlamini and two of his childrenWith water surrounding part of his home about 100 metres away, Dlamini is scared that his two four-year-old grandchildren are going to drown because they used to play at the place that is now covered by the water.

“In fact, their older siblings now swim in the dam and the younger ones always beg to join in the fun,” said Dlamini.

The unemployed former miner has to stay at home and look after the children when his wife is not around because he is scared the children might go into the water. And what’s worse, Dlamini is also frightened of seeing so much water closer to his homestead he shares with his eight children, six grandchildren and his wife because crocodiles and hippos are likely to inhabit the place.

Despite warning his grandchildren against swimming in the dam water, they have continued. “It hasn’t even stopped raining,” he said in frustration. With death reports from South Africa resulting from floods, SWADE has failed to convince the Dlamini household against panicking because the water will not creep any further.

It is already spilling back into the river. According to strategic and corporate communications manager Gugulethu Hlophe, the people who reside around the dam don’t have to worry because they are placed above the level of extreme flooding from the dam. SWADE has to visit eight families who were panicking about the rising water levels. “They are placed above the probable possible flood line level where water would be in an unlikely event,” said Hlophe.

“Careful measures have been taken to ensure that the remaining homesteads around the dam won’t be affected by floods.” She understands the fears of the families considering that people of Siphofaneni have not seen such expanse of water body. 39 “People here are used to seeing streams,” said Hlophe. “We’re still talking to them (families around the dam) that they shouldn’t be scared.”

However, Dlamini’s fears of crocodiles and hippos are genuine, admitted Hlophe.

Unfortunately, she said, there are no guarantees that crocodiles will not colonise the place. In the event such happens, SWADE will get rangers to capture them and also consider fencing the part of the dam that is closer to homesteads “assuming that people won’t cut off the fence.”

It looks like the current rains are bringing more good things to Siphofaneni. Even Dlamini, frightened as he is, could afford to take a bath in the dam just 100 metres away from his home.

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