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WATER-BOTSWANA: A Garden In the Heart of the Village

MOKOBENG, Botswana, Oct 24 2009 (IPS) - Look, there’s no drama with the borehole in Mokobeng. And that’s the way it should be.

The village of Mokobeng has just fewer than 3,000 people staying here. Most people in Mokobeng, they are seasonal farmers. They are keeping livestock on the northern part of the village, while fields are to the south. This is to keep the animals from destroying the fields.

The fields are fenced with tree branches. Those who have money, they use barbed wire. You will see mud houses with thatched roofs on the farms.

But Mokobeng is slowly growing, moving forward gently. The people of this settlement are adapting to the changing world. Walls of mud and roofs of thatch in the village are now outnumbered by cement bricks and corrugated iron roofs. There is a health post, a primary school and a junior secondary school.

The village has four small general dealer shops. This gives the people here a choice of where to buy sugar and tea and razor blades and soap.

The borehole

You wanted to know about the borehole and the garden.

There are standpipes evenly distributed in the village. This has reduced the congestion which used to be in the middle of the village, when everyone came to take water at the same time.

The oldest standpipe is no longer in use. A wall, high like this, to your knee here, a wall has been erected around this standpipe. The wall carries the beautiful colours of the Botswana flag. These outstanding colours distinguish the standpipe from others and the rest of the buildings in the village.

But the borehole. It supplies all of the needs of the villagers and enough for the garden.

The garden

In the heart of the village there is a garden measuring about 50 metres square. Here a group of women have joined hands to alleviate poverty.

The Ngwaoboswa Conservation Group is a group of volunteers who are making use of the village garden to grow vegetables, fruits and keep bees. They grow green pepper, spinach, tomatoes, butternuts, watermelons, orange, mango and rape. Each season they plant vegetables and fruits suitable for that particular season.

See the Ngwaoboswa chairperson here. Mmandaba Makola, you say the garden is watered from the village borehole.

“For our garden we use the hosepipe and watering can for watering. We use groundwater. It is the only source of water in our village. It is able to sustain our watering.

“Most of the vegetables we grow they need to be watered regularly. Watering is done in the morning and afternoon. We have also planted flowers for our bees.”

Thank you. The garden, you know, used to belong to the entire village. But due to laxity the garden became a white elephant.

More on the garden

These women have been encouraged by the village chief to group themselves as a form of women empowerment, to make use of the garden.

Everyone was allowed to join the group, and it used to have ten members. Now the group has six. Four have opted out to join their families in towns.

The Ngwaoboswa women come here all as a group only on Monday and Friday. On other days they have divided themselves into two groups of three people. These women come to the garden in the morning and leave at midday. In the late afternoon, when the heat has ceased, then they return to the garden. This is done to monitor the garden.

When everything is ready for harvesting, the fruits and vegetables are sold at a reasonable price. Most customers are the villagers and sometimes customers are drawn from neighbouring villages.

The group shares the profit every month end. Some of the money is kept to be used when the need arises. The project start up has been funded by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), but now it must carry itself.

Sis’ Makola, you as Ngwaoboswa women also assist in the village with food.

“Yes, this project is not only about making profit. We sometimes donate the vegetables to the community home-based care. Whenever there is a function in the village main kgotla, primary or secondary school we contribute with these vegetables and fruits.”

Kgotla, for you who do not know seTswana, is the meeting place in the village. Kgotla can also be a community meeting called by the village chief.

The chief

This is the chief, Obert Thuthwa. He is supportive of the garden, although he is worried about what will happen if the only borehole in the village runs dry, is it not so Chief?

“The project is very commendable. These women are doing a good job. My only worry is that we have only one borehole which is the only source of water in our village.

“Our village has plenty of groundwater. As the village develops the population will grow and we will run short of water.

“The other worry is that the government is not doing enough in rural areas in terms of water management. We are not well equipped with integrated water resources. The quality of the water here is questionable.

“In my view, groundwater is not given much care compared to surface water. This is because groundwater is believed to be not much easily polluted. But it is hard to detect the pollution in groundwater.”

The chief has been complaining about the quality of water for consumption.

“The water should be checked every three months. Myself as the village chief I have never seen such a report. This indicates that regular checking is not done. We need to be empowered on how to use integrated water resources so as to not exhaust one resource. Because of this lack of knowledge we cannot even manage our aquifers.”

The groundwater

For those of you who don’t know this language of groundwater, the water that is flowing from the borehole and supporting the whole village is from an aquifer. This is a store of water underground that can be “unconfined”, that is rain can fall on us here and into the ground directly to the underground store. Or an aquifer can be “confined”. That is when between us here and the water underground is a layer of rock closing it in, unless we are to drill a borehole through to reach it.

Barbara Lopi knows this language of groundwater very well. She is a communications specialist in Gaborone for SADC’s Groundwater and Drought Management Project. She says groundwater has a great potential to contribute to the socio-economic development in the region.

“Groundwater contribution in the region is very critical to the majority of rural; community and small towns. In some areas in the region, groundwater is the only reliable source of water, resulting in 60 percent of SADC’s population and 70 percent of the rural population using groundwater as their primary water source.

“Groundwater plays a number of very important roles in the economies and environment. It is a major source for small-scale irrigation and livestock farming in countries like Botswana and other SADC member states.”

She says that yields from farming are sometimes even much higher than yields in areas where they use water from surface water sources for irrigation. Groundwater, she says, is a key resource of poverty alleviation.

She could be talking about Mokobeng.

Ngwaoboswa has been running the garden for more than five years now. Sis’ Makola says that a certain farmer has shown interest in renting the garden. She and the others however have decided to rather partner with the farmer instead of leaving the garden over to him completely.

“We are partnering with him so as to help us expand our business in terms of market. Since he also has resources, we can be in a better position to have a borehole specifically for the garden. The farmer has a vast experience in agriculture. And this is not only to our advantage but to the whole community.”

She could be talking about integrated water resource management.

This is Mokobeng.

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