The Zio rice basins: punches and machetes or water diplomacy?

By Edem Dadzie

6 Oct 2022 by The Water Diplomat

About thirty kilometres northwest of Lomé, the Togolese capital, stretching to the horizon in every direction, one can witness the majestic rice-growing basins of the municipality of Zio 2. Many visitors make a stopover to contemplate the beauty of the rice fields and to catch that particular smell. However, not many visitors are aware of the water problems that undermine the sector, with risks of physical conflicts and sometimes even the threat of machetes. This area produces rice in large quantities for the country: just over 800 hectares are sown, producing around 2,300 tons per year. And rice production requires control over water. "In our activity as rice farmers, access to water is our most important challenge", says Bernadette Akoli, a local rice producer.

“During the short rainy season and the dry season, we suffer from lack of water to irrigate the rice fields. We are sometimes forced to use motor pumps to draw water from the basin,” continues Bernadette. Southern Togo, where Zio 2 is located, has two rainy seasons (a short and a long one) as well as two dry seasons (also short and long). However, these seasons are both irregular and changing. In some years there is only one rainy season, with limited rain. It is therefore not surprising that there are problems of access to water.

To deal with these challenges, the Perimeter Management Committee (CGP) has established a schedule for the irrigation of the fields. However, sometimes, producers do not respect this schedule, using water on days when they are not scheduled, and sometimes illicitly diverting the flow of water to their farms. This leads to conflicts, and even… punches and machetes.

“If we notice that you are irrigating your field on a day when you were not scheduled to do so, we can turn off your motor pump. We have witnessed extremes, in particular threats with knives or machetes, as well as real injuries” laments Ms. Akoli. The PMC is trying to keep the situation under control, especially to avoid conflict that could cause loss of life. “We have a sub-committee that manages water. If there is a problem somewhere, this is the organisation that intervenes”, reveals Aoudou Aminou, Secretary General of the CGP.

Dilapidated canals and clogged dam

“The dam from which the pipeline originated was planned for an area of ​​approximately 600 hectares. Currently with the Partam project (project for the development and rehabilitation of agricultural land in the Mission Tové area), this will go beyond 1000 hectares. Under these conditions, water-related problems cannot be avoided. Thus, water becomes scarce at certain times of the year, especially during the dry season,” notes Koudjagbo Kodjo Apélété, rice producer and municipal councilor in the municipality of Zio 2.

“The infrastructure is deteriorating. At times you will see irrigation channels collapsing. This results in intense bursts of water. If you walk along the perimeter, you will notice that in some places the channels are deformed and the water escapes. This constitutes losses for the perimeter. By the way, the perimeter dates back a very long time. It was built around 1975 by the Chinese,” adds the representative of rice producers on the City Council. The CGP introduced a fee for the use of water from the irrigation scheme which amounts to 15,000 FCFA /ha/yr, which is due to increase to 30,000 FCFA. The funds are used by CGP to repair the parts of the scheme that are experiencing deterioration, but the funds are insufficient.

We recommend dredging the dam to increase its retention capacity. Consideration should also be given to setting up a water policy to ensure the rational use of the resource. Following the instructions given regarding the use of water will help solve this problem. We can also lengthen certain old pipes to reach the most remote places”, advocates the municipal councilor.

Placing water in the service of peace and not peace at the service of water

Water diplomacy can be used in situations such as those in Zio 2. But what to do when there are obstacles to water diplomacy? “The hindrance to water diplomacy manifests itself when there are misunderstandings around the use of the resource. Water diplomacy is defined as all the mechanisms, means implemented to prevent conflicts, tensions which have the direct or indirect cause of water sharing. When the sharing is not equitable, when the water is not used wisely by all users, when a single entity monopolizes the resource, when there is no dialogue between the different actors, we are witnessing obstacles to water diplomacy,” says Flamay Ahiafor, a local water management expert.

At municipal level, rice production is not the only water demand sector and there are conflicts of access between various uses, whereby each user will want to satisfy their needs first. There are also tensions between nomadic and local herders who pass through the fields and the farmers.

“The solution is to move towards Integrated Water Resources Management. This means that all the actors must unite around the resource. Water must be managed simultaneously with all other resources including land. These are resources that are intrinsically linked through the water cycle. So we have to go to this ecosystem management which makes it possible to redefine the resources at our disposal. To achieve this, it is necessary to make a diagnosis of the resource, to know the quantity that we have and the use that we want to make of it, in consultation with all the actors”, advises the specialist.

“Whatever the source of water, there will always be conflicts. What must be done is to put water at the service of peace, and not peace at the service of water", recommends Dr. Boubacar Barry, scientific advisor to the 9th World Water Forum held in Dakar (Senegal) in March 2022. In other words, it is the desire to manage the resource for the benefit of all that must generate peace, and not the contrary.

The battle against climate change is another dimension in the struggle for water

As is the case with other communities around the world, in Africa and in Togo, the municipality of Zio 2 also suffers from the impacts of climate change, in particular the scarcity of rain and therefore of water resources. “The scarcity of rain is explained by climate change. The anarchic cutting of the trees bordering the Zio River affects rainfall. Indeed, the pipeline draws its source from there”, recognizes Mr. Koudjagbo. Provisions are made to raise public awareness of the need to preserve the forest cover. Apart from this, efforts are being made to increase the forest cover through reforestation campaigns. It is by preserving natural resources that we can envisage real integrated management of water resources.