Solar powered sand abstraction on dry river bed provide hope for dry region of Matabeleland

By Pamenus Tuso

For the past few  years,  68 year old Mercy Moyo of Tshelanyemba  village in Maphisa district , Matebeleland South starts her day every morning by drawing water using a manual pump from  the Shashane  dry river bed  in-order to water her garden which is  her only source of livelihood. Moyo‘s daily routine is similar to that of several other members of the various community gardens located along Shashane river in this arid area.

The Matabeleland region suffers chronic water shortages as a result of erratic rainfall albeit plenty underground water from seasonal rivers. In light of this, a local non-governmental organisation Dabane Trust in 2010 introduced simple and low-cost water abstraction equipment   to the community gardens members which are mostly run by women. One of the most common, simple and cost effective water pumps which have been designed by Dabane engineers is the Rowa and Joma hand pumps.

The Rowa pumps provide clean and fresh water for drinking purposes while Joma pumps provide water for irrigation purposes. Well-points are driven into the water –saturated sand of the deeper parts of the river bed. The well-points are then connected to the hand pumps on the riverbank, ensuring an installation which can be safely used all year round and will not be damaged by flood when the river next flows. This technology ensures that people are able to abstract greater amounts of clean water with no detrimental effect to the environment.

The Joma pump provides water for approximately a half hectare garden as well as livestock water.

Although the inception of this technology lessened the rural women‘s traditional burden of physically fetching water from the river and water their gardens, the manual pumps has limitations which impacts negatively on production.

“Before the introduction of Joma pumps by Dabane Trust, we used to literally scavenge for water in dry river beds and irrigate our gardens as well as water our animals. The advent of the Joma pumps to a larger extent changed our lives as production in our gardens increased. As a result of this increased production, we managed to have adequate food for our families,” said Moyo who is a member of the thriving Madlelo-aluhlaza garden community.

Moyo said although the hand pumps have brought joy and relief to the gardeners who are mostly women and girls, they continue to carry the tedious and physical burden of manually using the pumps.

Because of this shortcoming, Dabane Trust has introduced solar powered water abstraction equipment.

“The low cost simple hand pump systems which we have designed are very efficient and easy to operate but we have decided to migrate to solar powered system after realising the old technology had some challenges in achieving maximum production. For example, with the rollers it used to take about three and half hours to fill a 7000 litre tank,” said Dabane Trust Director, Stephen Hussey in an interview.

The solar powered pumping machines costs ranges between$500 and $1000 depending on the size.

“The only components of this project which are expensive are solar panels and fencing. Otherwise when installed, the equipment only needs minor maintenance and no other expenses are involved,” he said.

Hussey said the migration from the old system to the solar technology has created maximum production of organic fresh, nutritious vegetable and protein food crops for both home consumption and commercial purposes.

As a result of increased production following the installation of the solar pumps, Hussey said the community with the support of his organisation and funded by Trocaire have managed to establish the Matobo Food Processing and Value Addition Centre.

Hussey said the centre which is located at Tshelanyemba centre in Matopos has managed to increase food security and resilience to climate change shocks for 600 direct beneficiaries and 3 300 indirect beneficiaries in wards 2, 5, 6 and 7 in the district.

The Chairperson of Thembani community garden, Rosena Kgwatala (64) hailed Trocaire and Dabane for assisting the farmers with the solar irrigation technology and the value addition centre.

“With this processing centre, we are now able to increase the value of our crops by processing and packaging, thus getting higher returns. Before the establishment of the centre, a lot of our garden produce used to rot because we did not have the capacity to add value to our goods. We are no longer depending on our husbands   to fend for  our                                                                                                                                                                                         families. Some of us are now owners of livestock, courtesy of this project,” said Kgwatala.

Hussey said the introduction of solar pumps has overwhelmed the farmers with surplus water.

“Our challenge now is to work more with the gardeners and increase production. We need also to improve the quality of the soil by removing worn out soil and applying a bit of fertiliser to it. Now that the system is fully working, we need to increase production,” said Hussey.

He said now that more water is available, his organisation and the farmers are considering increasing the size of the gardens.

Hussey said as part of climate change mitigation measures in the region, Dabane Trust is also currently working with students from various universities on a research project to determine the amount of water available in seasonal rivers.

“We need to have systems which manage climate change. Climate change is real and we need to look at ways of reducing the loss of water and moisture from dry land crops. There is a lot of clean water in dry river beds,” added Hussey.

Using similar technology, DabaneTrust has also installed water supply system at Tshelenyemba hospital.

Dabane Trust in partnership with SNV and Practical Action is also working on a 160 hectares irrigation scheme on the confluence of Tuli and Shashane rivers in Mashava in the Midlands province. Dabane  Trust is providing technical assistance on sand water abstraction through the solar powered equipment.

Post Author: Nyasha Nyakunu

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