The water year is upon us: Time to renew water agreements

The link between agricultural productivity and economic development is well-documented. It is one of the realities of the Zimbabwean economy that dates back to pre-colonial times.
In other words, it is impossible to address socio-economic challenges bedevilling the country without paying utmost attention to the needs of the agricultural sector. That is exactly why agricultural revitalisation is at the centre of government efforts to stimulate economic growth as enunciated in the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZIM-ASSET) and the 10-point plan.
Sadly, despite its strategic position in the national economic outlook, agriculture is one of the sectors that has been most affected by climate change and more than never before, it’s survival is entirely dependent on how much effort stakeholders in the water and agricultural sectors are channelling towards preparing for and adapting to the changing climate.
It is apparent that increasing investment in water resources development and creating favourable conditions for irrigation is arguably the most effective means of adapting to the increasingly damaging effects of climate change.
Naturally, this scenario puts the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA), being the Authority responsible for water resources management, in a very critical position where the success of efforts to guarantee food security depends solely on how well the country’s water resources are developed and managed.
However, it is important to underscore that efforts by stakeholders in the water sector, among them ZINWA, to sustainably develop and manage the country’s water resources can only bear tangible results if water users themselves realise that they also have an important role to play.
The situation is even more critical for irrigating farmers who must ensure that they follow the legally defined framework for utilising irrigation water as provided for in the Water Act (Chapter 20:24) and Statutory Instrument 206 of 2001. The current drought and water stress that the country is battling with, owing to El Nino, makes it critical for each and every farmer to have an agreement or permit. The water stress the country finds itself in means water resources planning will be extremely difficult and one undocumented use will further compromise the ability to plan.
For years, ZINWA’s efforts to guarantee water security have continually been scuttled by the reluctance or in some cases refusal by some irrigation farmers to acquaint themselves with and abide by the Water Act; especially where it deals with how one can have access to water.
For the avoidance of doubt and in terms of the Water Act, all irrigating farmers must be holders of either water permits which are obtainable from Sub-Catchment Councils or water abstraction agreements which farmers enter into with ZINWA.
This is contained in section 34 of the Act which reads: “No person shall abstract water for any purpose other than primary purposes except in terms of a permit.” It is also vital to point out that water permits should be applied for by farmers who want to irrigate using water from rivers.
On the other hand, water abstraction agreements are entered into between farmers or other commercial users and ZINWA wherever the farmer or such other commercial entity want to use water from ZINWA managed dams for non-primary purposes.
As is the case with water permits, the requirement to have water abstraction agreements is provided for in Section 2 of Statutory Instrument 206 of 2001 which reads, “No surface water permit shall be required of a person who wishes to abstract surface water from a water storage works or share of a water storage works vested in the State of the National Water Authority for an purpose mentioned in paragraph (a), but such person must enter into an agreement with the National Water Authority in terms of subsection (6) of Section 39 of the Act.”
Interestingly, one of the most critical aspects of the water agreement system which many water users sadly do not understand adequately enough is that the agreement is only valid for a year after which those who wish to continue using water will have to renew it. Continuing to use water for any secondary purpose without a permit or agreement is, in terms of the law, illegal.
The lifespan of all abstraction agreements is one year which runs from the 1st of April to the 31st of March every year.
Apparently, we are just two weeks into the 2016-2017 water year and it is that time of the year when agreements have just expired and therefore, the Authority is reminding agreement holders to renew their agreements while those who don’t have them are advised to regularise their activities and stop using water illegally forthwith.
In light of the limited water the country currently has, the Authority further advises farmers to work closely with their extension officers and apply for the right quantities of water.

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