Edward Melkion (L), a horticulture peasant in Dar es Salaam’s Msimbazi Valley, points out highly polluted water flowing from residential houses that he uses to irrigate his garden.

VEGETABLE farmers in Dar es Salaam have admitted to using water believed to be highly polluted to irrigate their gardens, saying they have no access to clean water.

A cross-section of city-based farmers interviewed by The Guardian yesterday said they have now resorted to random spills from homes and factories to irrigate their plots of land not out of choice, but of necessity.

They emphasized that if clean water, piped or from wells, was conveniently available, they would use that instead.

Yesterday, this paper ran a front-page story in which national health protection authorities warned that people living in major cities and towns, who consume vegetables grown in urban gardens, were exposed to health risks including incurable diseases.

In the alert, both the Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority (TFDA) and Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre said that because of the use of polluted water to water edible crops, inorganic compounds from industries were more likely to find their way into consumers’ bodies. At the same time, uncooked vegetable sandwiches and salads also allow sewerage bacteria into eaters’ stomachs, increasing the risk of illnesses such as cancer, kidney failure, and impaired cognitive function in children.

But in their responses, the farmers said they found themselves caught between a rock and a hard place: either to water their gardens with whatever is available - namely polluted water - or stay jobless. Practically all of them said they chose the latter.

According to Edward Melikioni, who has been growing veggies in Msimbazi Valley, Kigogo in the city since 1991, he and his colleagues have diverted a channel that flows sewerage water from Buguruni into their gardens “for the sake of convenience.”

“It’s not what we want to do or like to do. It’s what we have to do,” said a visibly peeved Melikioni when asked about the possible health repercussions from their action.

“We have no access to safe water from taps or wells, despite the fact that politicians have repeatedly promised that they would construct wells for us vegetable farmers,” he added. “So far that hasn’t happened.”

Another farmer, Lucia Amandusi, also pushed the blame on the government, saying she previously used clean river water obtained from the Msimbazi River before it was polluted by industrial and domestic waste spills.

Lucia has been practicing vegetable farming in the area for the past 45 years and says since this is the only work she has even known, she will have to continue even though she knows the water in the river is no longer anywhere near pure.

“So far my farming activity has helped me build a house and educate my child up to college level,” she said, adding that to stop now is not an option.

Oscar Abdul lamented that despite the crucial role played by farmers like himself of supplying city residents with much-needed vegetables, authorities had turned a blind eye to their plight by failing to provide them with clean and safe water for their gardens.

“We now have to depend on the water that flows from Buguruni for irrigation, since we were stopped from using water from Msimbazi river which was declared unsafe after being polluted with chemicals from factories,” he explained.

Yet another farmer, Mande Christian, maintained that if their activities do indeed pose a health threat to consumers, they as farmers cannot be blamed because they are just trying to make ends meet while it is up to the authorities to ensure that they work in a safe and conducive environment.

“We solely depend on this work for our livelihoods…if it is condemned, we will become jobless and our families will suffer,” said Mande.

Mandela Pius, a farmer in the city’s Tazara area, said they would be happy to have access to clean water and were willing to pay for it as long as they are not made jobless.

The Kinondoni municipal information officer, Sebastian Mhowela, said according to the Dar es Salaam City Master Plan of 1976, only one area is designated for farming activities within the municipality - Mpiji valley, which runs along the borders with Kibaha and Bagamoyo districts in Coast Region.

All other farming activities in the city are conducted on either private land that the municipal authorities cannot interfere with, or open spaces, Mhowela said.
In her warning, TFDA manager in-charge of Food Risk Analysis, Candida Shirima, said the contamination of vegetables with chemicals such as heavy metals or pesticides residues at levels above tolerated severely compromised their safety and fitness for human consumption.

Meanwhile, TFNC research officer for nutrition training, Walbert Mgeni, said: “Organic compounds such as bacteria found in vegetables can be destroyed by cooking for a long time, but chemicals which include heavy metals remain in vegetables and can find their way into people’s bodies.”

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