Everyday millions of litres of wastewater flow past the villages of Oodi, Matebele, Mochudi and others along the Notwane River. The perennial current weaves its way past villages and cattle posts, over a distance of nearly 300 kilometres.
Far away in South Africa’s Limpopo Province, Notwane empties into the Limpopo River near Thabazimbi.
Here it settles into Notwane Dam, an 18,800,000 cubic metres reservoir largely used by South Africans for irrigation purposes.
The perennial flow’s source can be traced back to the bathrooms and kitchens of both the Greater Gaborone and the city’s nearly 500,000 residents.
It would have emptied into the Gaborone Water Treatment Plant by way of sewers, or transported by effluence tankers to the Gaborone Sewage Farm or treatment plant.
After it is treated the water is released into lagoons or stabilisation ponds. Some of it flows into a wetland in the Gaborone Game Reserve and into the Notwane River.
It is an unceasing, gurgling flow of millions of cubic metres of a liquid that elsewhere on planet Earth is considered more precious than any mineral.
Yet, the value of this effluent water has been greatly ignored in Botswana. For instance, of the hundreds of farms along the Notwane River in the villages of Oodi, Matebele and Mochudi that Mmegi saw, less than 20 were putting the water to use.
Most are small gardens leased to Zimbabweans. The immigrants, most of whom are poor and illegal, cannot afford to plant bigger pieces of land for fear they could be deported anytime, or because the people who lease the farms to them may come just as their crop matures and demand their farms back.
“It is a chance we have no choice but to take,” says Tidings Dumbo who has just over 3,000 rape plants.
He pumps water from the Notwane River and allows it to flow into trenches. “From here to the river it is less than 100 metres, so I just use a water pump to bring the water to the plants,” he says.
Many of the nearby one-hectare farms along the river are, however, bereft of activity.
“Some of the owners will neither lease nor cultivate the fields, and many of them have been sitting like this for many years.” Dumbo argues there is a scarcity of vegetables in Botswana which could be offset by adequate use of Notwane River waters. He currently has paprika, and green pepper, which he says sell well.
“Whoever wants to buy green pepper will want to buy paprika. You can’t go wrong with these,” he says.
His countryman Jonston Sibanda, who like Dumbo operates solo from a rented field says he is able to put bread on the table from his vegetable garden.
He also pumps water from the Notwane River and uses trenches.
About 400 metres from Sibanda’s farm sits a bigger farm with better infrastructure.
A half dozen men and women stop working as we disembark our vehicle.
One of them is the owner. He trudges towards us in his muddy gumboots and only when he is closer do we realise he is Asian, Chinese really.
“Englis ton’t know, speak berry litel,” he declares in a good mannered way after learning what our mission is, namely, to see how much residents make use of the Notwane River flow.
He introduces himself as Cheng and calls one of his workers, Thabo,
Altogether he has five hectares of farmland that sit less than a hundred metres from the river.
He plants various types of vegetables, including those that are in high demand among his native Chinese population. Using a combination of both sprinkler and trenching Chen remains one of the most prolific vegetable farmers in this area. An even better example of a determination to use Notwane River water is Saith Mustafa. The Bangladesh-born Mustafa has run his farm for 20 years. “I have been here for 20 years and plant all types of vegetables – from eggplant to pumpkins and all leafy vegetables such as cabbage, spinach and chomolia,” he says.
He employs over a dozen locals in his five hectare farm. Mustafa is appalled at the failure by Batswana to utilise the Notwane River water. “You could practically export vegetables to other countries. “Diamonds may lose value. The Chinese and Russians are already making artificial diamonds.
“The hope of this nation is in agriculture. That beef’s contribution to the GDP has declined, it is necessary to build other aspects of agriculture such as horticultural farming, both to feed the nation and diversify the economy,” he says. He believes government should play a more proactive role in ensuring farms along such useful rivers as Notwane are put to good use.
“There is so much potential. Agriculture could be Botswana’s next diamond.”
Mustafa believes the country also has enough underground water to sustain irrigation. “Some parts of the country such as certain areas of Lobatse, all the way to the Mahalapye area have adequate underground water to build irrigation farming.
“Even the desert areas, which have far more underground water than the rest of the country can become thriving agricultural farms.” He gives the example of Israel, which he says utilises ‘every drop’ to turn their deserts into green pastures.
“It is possible,” he says. With regard to planting along the Notwane River, Mustafa says it comes with a lot of benefits. “You use very little or no fertiliser as the water is rich in those.” It appears however, that without government playing a more proactive role towards ensuring adequate use of the Notwane waters, the country’s food security shall remain questionable. If iclined though, government must first deal with the many challenges around usage of waste water.
Among the challenges noted by this publication are attitudes and perceptions about the use of effluent water. It is a problem many nations that chose to make use of their treated waste water have had to grapple with. However once the people have been disabused of those perceptions, and effectively assured that dangerous toxins and algae would have been removed during treatment of the water, many may start warming towards the idea of using it.
According to experts, Botswana could add up to 16 percent more water to the country’s available resources and demand, by adequately treating and availing wastewater such as that of the Notwane River. This present a wonderful hope for a country grappling with an acute shortage of water.