Rumbidzayi Zinyuke Senior Reporter
ON a daily basis, leafy green vegetables are finding their way to the fresh produce markets in Dangamvura, Hobhouse, Chikanga and Sakubva.
For the consumers, the greener and bigger the leaves are, the higher their chance of buying them.
No one bothers to find out the source of these vegetables.
Everyone just assumes that farmers are bringing them from Marange, Watsomba, Chigodora, Odzi, Rowa or Macheke.
But some of the vegetables are being grown under unhygienic conditions in the vegetable vendors’ backyards.
Raw sewer is being used to irrigate the crops!
And as one would expect, the leaves are much bigger, greener and fresher than the rest of the vegetables on the market.
More worrying are the consequences of such actions.
The urban farmers behind this say they are trying to earn a living. However, health experts say the farmers are putting the lives of the consumers at risk as well as their own by working in the sewage fields.
Mutare City Health Services director, Dr Anthony Mutara said such activities are being done at several areas in the city, with individuals vandalising sewer pipes to access irrigation sewer water.
At Destiny near Hobhouse in Mutare, two huge sewer pipes running parallel to each other as they go towards the Gimboki Sewer Treatment Plant on the outskirts of Dangamvura have been tampered with on several points.
Raw sewage gushes out, complete with big chunks of human waste. The farmers gleefully collect the water in buckets to water their vegetable gardens.
Although human waste has nutrients that promote plants’ growth, Dr Mutara said such crops are not safe for human consumption.
“Those pipes are supposed to convey sewer to the treatment plant before the water is directed into a water channel where it can be used for other purposes. By using this sewerage water, the farmers are exposing themselves and other citizens to diseases.
“Some people do not cook the vegetables, hence they might be unknowingly ingesting human waste. It is unfortunate that most people will buy the vegetables if they come across cheap ones, but it is really worrying,” he said.
Some urban farmers are said to be planting rocks inside manholes to block flow and cause overflows which they then use to irrigate their vegetables.
Dr Mutara said the City Health Department is working with the Engineering Department to address the situation, which he said needs a holistic approach since the culprits always find a way of coming back to cause more damage.
“What they are doing is wrong on so many levels. They are posing a serious health hazard, they are illegally allocating themselves land for urban farming and they are also vandalising council property.
Continuous repairs on these pipes is haemorrhaging the council coffers which are already strained. Residents will eventually bear the burden of repairing the pipes, which is not fair,” said Dr Mutara.
But while council is in the process of finding a solution, there are people who are immediately affected more than anyone else.
Destiny is a fairly new residential area and quite a number of homes were constructed less than 10 metres from all these activities.
Since the majority of them are still constructing their houses, they are yet to erect perimeter fences on their properties so they are directly in the line of the raw sewer.
Their children play in the sewage paddles while flies swam their homes. The smell is just unbearable.
They say they have nowhere else to go. They cannot leave their homes because of the problem and therefore they have to live with it.
Mr Denford Zvareva said they are worried about the health of their children.
“We started staying here in 2017 but these activities were already happening. Sometimes you find small children playing in the water. We try to monitor them but it is very difficult,” said Mr Zvareva.
After years of confrontations, residents managed to convince the farmers to leave the area directly behind their homes clear to minimise contact with the sewer.
Mr Zvareva said during the rainy season, they always experience outbreaks of malaria and other waterborne diseases.
“We are calling on the council to repair these pipe so that it stops feeding water to the vegetable fields. If left like this, the raw sewer will cause serious health problems for this community,” he said.
Another resident, Mrs Nyengeterai Maisiri said the culprits behind this problem do not stay in Destiny and are therefore not directly affected by the sewage. She said most of them stay in Hobhouse and other areas.
“They come here, vandalise the pipes and leave us to deal with the smell and flies that come with it. We have noone to complain to. Engaging them has not been effective. They tell us that this is their only source of income and that they will not stop,” she said.
She encouraged consumers to be wary of the vegetables they buy on the informal markets.
“They grow tsunga, pumpkin leaves, covo, green mealies and yams. They are usually the first to deliver green mealies on the market since they have water all year round. The produce is often very big and appealing to the eye.” she said.