Review of The Water Harvester - Mirror

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Sunday 3 October, 2004 – AFRICA ONLINE – THE SUNDAY MIRROR

Zephania Phiri: from simple Zvishavane peasant to number one national hunger fighter

Ezekiel C. Makunike


Zvishavane District in the Midlands Province of Zimbabwe is not only the home of the Dadaya Mission or Shabani-Mashaba Mines; it is also the home of Zephaniah Phiri Maseko and the Zvishavane Water Project.

While other countries, especially those in the West may take water for granted, in arid areas like Zvishavane District, water is a supremely precious natural resource. While populations increase, water does not, and yet every living creature; animals, plants and people need it in order to survive. Besides, there is no substitute for water! The solution to the equation is that maximum efforts must be made to conserve that vital and limited natural commodity! The expression, “necessity is the mother of invention” has been proved true through the dauntless efforts of a seemingly ordinary peasant family; the family of Zephanaiah Phiri Maseko. We must emphasise the word, “seemingly”, for indeed Phiri has proved himself to be a remarkable visionary, a resourceful thinker, and a giant hero of a man! It could well be said, “He has done what Napoleon could not do!” He has, throughout his lifespan, demonstrated remarkable courage, resilience and indomitable fortitude against otherwise insurmount-able odds and adversaries. He has transformed a hitherto dry area into a perennial wetland through his innovative and rather unorthodox labour-intensive water harvesting techniques. His now famous “Phiri Pits” have captured the rain water whose seepages have literally met the water level in the ground below; thus resulting in raising the water table that ensures constant moisture to his trees and kamagra in canada crops.. “This has created a unique perennial wetland, ready to nourish the soil for bountiful harvests throughout the year. He had not read these techniques from a book or from formal schooling for indeed his formal education is minimal compared to the successes he has achieved so far. His successes came by sheer dint of his inborn education, fertile imagination and natural commonsense. In a book, “The Water Harvester”, written by Mary Witoshynshky and published by “Weaver Press”, the reviewer, a Mr. W. Chakanyuka, in his article published by “The Masvingo Star” newspaper (November 17-23, 2000) he had this tosay, ‘‘Phiri relates the challenges that inspired him to combine traditional agricultural wisdom with the scientific land management schemes mandated by the government. In doing so, at times under duress, he achieved strikingly better harvest returns. His lifelong dedication to better soil nutrition and water conservation generated an innovative land husbandry regime well regarded by agro ecologists”. The reviewer goes further and says these experts are not alone in grasping the significance of Phiri’s methods as a basis for “coaxing barren ground to yield abundant harvest of grain, vegetables, fruit and water. He has further established well accomplished fish ponds in the district”.

The book reviewer summarises Phiri’s successes when he says, “Zvishavane lies in arid yet starkly beautiful terrain where small-scale farmers labour in an often fruitless struggle with fragile soils and erratic rainfall. “Yet it was here that Zephaniah Phiri Maseko cultivated his unique character and cheapest prices for kamagra vision to transform a resource starved subsistence plot into a bountiful farmstead”. This has attracted the attention and interest of ecologists, environmentalists and agro researchers from within Africa and abroad. Located at nearly twenty kilometers beyond the Zvishavane Town on the Shrungwi road and turning to the left, Phiri has proved to be a small-scale peasant farmer with a difference! His rural communal property is a mere eight acres of land. Propelled by the Biblical message of the Book of Genesis Chapter 2, he has literally created a model image of the Garden of Eden at a terrain where such a novelty was previously least expected or dreamed of. The Biblical Adam and Eve were given the Garden of Edenas a gift. There were rivers to water the Garden. Phiri and his family laboured hard to create it. There were no rivers anywhere close to irrigate his garden and viagra for sale online yet he needed to survive! There was no better place for him and his family to move to.. He was stuck there. He was to “stay put!” He thus had to learn to swim or sink, as the saying goes! A group of 22 people from the Manicaland Province and some from Mozambique and sponsored by Environment Africa, a conservation development organisation, visited the home of Phiri on September 8, 2004. Members of the group specifically came from the following districts: Nyanga, Mutasa, Mutare, Marange, Chimanimani in Zimbabwe; and Manica in Mozambique. The writer, resident in Harare was also part of the group. The visitors saw, to their amazement healthy crops such as bananas which were already pregnant with overweight clumps of fruit, sugar cane, beans, wheat, green maize at the ripening stage, vegetables and fruit trees of all kinds.

But indeed Phiri’s road to success was not paved with gold. During the colonial days as way back as the 1950s he was arrested for interfering with the colonial soil husbandry policies of the time. The area agricultural demonstrators sent reports to the Land Development Officer(LDO) who in turn ordered Mr. Phiri’s arrest for the simple reason that he was doing things his own way and not the “official” way! He was planting barn grass and kikuyu grass to preserve his water in his catchment area. At the courts Phiri gave his statement on what he was doing. The authenticity of his arguments led the Magistrate to decide to visit Phiri’s home fields to see it for himself. He was impressed by what he saw and ordered Phiri discharged and let him go free. Mr. Phiri proved himself a genius who knew far more appropriate technology thanthe then agricultural demonstrators of the time! But Phiri’s problems with the colonial government did not end there! In August 1976, at the height of Zimbabwe’s liberation war he was arrested by the police for being in possession of arms of war left at his home by the freedom fighters. The colonial government called these freedom fighters “terrorists”. He was taken to Shabane Police Station handcuffed and manacled. He was tortured and two of his shoulder bones were broken. His hip joint was disjointed. To this day he walks with a limp. He was further taken to Gweru Prison where he languished for four and half years, handcuffed and manacled with leg irons.

In 1980, at Zimbabwe’s independence he vigorously continued his water conservation and management techniques. Since then, numerous articles and studies have been written about his water and soil conservation techniques which in turn have made him world famous. Hisvisit to the United Kingdom helped him secure funds to found one of Zimbabwe’s first Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) , the now famous Zvishavane Water Project, an umbrella organization with over thirty members with him as the Chairman. Now at the age of 77, a contended Phiri kept his audience spellbound for close to an hour when he narrated his arduous journey fighting material deprivation and imminent poverty as he says in his own words. “In the 1950s I was facedwith a dilemma. With a wife and six children but with no job prospects having been fired from the then Rhodesia Railways job in Bulawayo and declared ‘not fit to be employed anywhere in the country’”, started experimenting with harvesting the little water that fell during the brief annual rainy seasons. His home is situated at the foot of a huge rock formation. He decided to harness the rainy water that flows from it and captured it in pits he dug so that the water thus captured can seep through the soil below and nourish his crops and fruit trees.

Further below he dug what he calls infiltration pits along the contour ridges, thus preventing the rain water from flowing away from his fields.

Having perfected the retention of this water he dug fish ponds. “There is a lot of fish in those ponds” he proudly says and he invites children from neighbouring schools to come and fish as part of their orientation to the value of water conservation.

News of his successes went far and wide. As stated before, a British organization invited him to London where he spoke about his water harvesting techniques. The trip opened the doors of financial help and fame. He did not like the financial help to go to his personal purse. Instead he desired that the money went to the establishment of what would benefit more people than just himself. The Zvishavane Water Project was the answer.

People have come from all over the world to see and learn from Phiri’s successes. Phiri himself has been invited to lecture and participate in water harvesting workshops and seminars to about nine countries in Africa and overseas.

If Africa could produce more of the likes of Phiri, indeed Africa would truly need not starve! With hardly anything added from outside, Phiri has used nature to enrich itself. As earlier pointed out, his water harvesting techniques have raised the water table to a level where it is easily reached by the roots of his crops throughout the year. His income is considerably higher. He practices the organic method of farming, that is to say, the non application of chemical fertilizer. This has sustained his soil fertility. Admittedly, the younger generation of today and tomorrow may not be able to sweat while doing the drudgery work of digging and shoveling in making the “Phiri Pits”, but there ought to be modern small-scale machinery that can be used to achieve the same goal. Phiri is not only an asset for the Zvishavane District or Zimbabwe itself, but indeed the whole Sadc countries and Africa at large. The Environment Africa-sponsored group that visited his home and Project was agreed that Phiri deserves an honorary doctorate degree in agriculture by the country’s universities or for that matter, a Hunger-free Africa Prize Award! For indeed fighting poverty and eradicating hunger is one sure way of bringing about peace..

Mr. Phiri was born in Zimbabwe of a Malawian father and a Zimbabwean mother in 1927. His father was a school teacher at the Dadaya Mission. (Ezekiel C.Makunike is former Director of Information, Government of Zimbabwe and now founder and Director of “Tese Tigute”: a Rural and Community Improvement Project).