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A small village that is feeding the city

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It is a small group of four villages perched on a slightly elevated piece of land.

A few slopes converge on a low expanse that receives alluvial soils from distant places.

And on this stretch, the people of Group Village Head Zifere Chisi, Traditional Authority Mzikubola in Mzimba have developed a 15-hectare irrigation scheme.

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On the scheme, every portion has something on it, all year round.

And when they are ready for harvesting, the farmers get ready for the first part of the cycle which is land preparation. Nearly every month, one variety is being planted in a cycle that does not have a definite timeframe.

Tomatoes, potatoes, beans, onions, garlic and peas, in their prime stages, billow in the gentle breeze sweeping across the scheme.

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On a piece of land that was perpetually dry, water is flowing from more than 35 traditional taps installed in strategic spots on Gamba Scheme. From the taps, winding hosepipes deliver the life-giving commodity to the crops.

Just a short distance from the actual fields, solar panels are fitted on top of towering metal poles, with electric wires extending to a pump below.

A 45-metre underground well was drilled and the solar-powered machine pumps the water to a 20,000-litre tank which uses the force of gravity to supply the water to the taps which later feed the scheme.

Julius Ganda, an Extension Multiplier in Champhira Extension Planning Area (EPA)—within which Gamba Irrigation Scheme is located—says the 150 members of the project are a perfect symbol of the potential that irrigation farming has, if properly coordinated.

He waxes lyrical about the bounties of the scheme which takes a market-based approach and looks at it a saviour of the four villages which have their own Vision 2020.

“It is our desire that by 2020, every house in GVH Zifere Chisi will be roofed with iron sheets. Already, almost all members of the scheme have managed to construct decent houses. In my case, I have even managed to buy a decoder and a TV screen,” says Ganda.

The concept of Ganda Irrigation Scheme could be seen as a small derivation of the larger Greenbelt Initiative (GBI) which aims at ensuring the country is food-secure even in the midst of acute and serial shortage of rain.

But, with just a few farmers across the country benefiting from the GBI and the targeted areas being mostly those near readily available water bodies, Gamba Irrigation System provides a perfect sample of how Malawi can ultimately avert hunger.

“One remarkable feature of our scheme is that we have ready markets where we sell our produce; so we toil in our gardens knowing clearly where our products will be sold.

“We are feeding Mzuzu City. From the scheme, we supply tomatoes, onions, Irish potatoes, and other products to the city. Some major institutions where we supply the produce include Shoprite, Moyale Barracks, Grand Palace Hotel, Mzuzu Hotel and many others,” says Ganda.

He envisages that not long from now, Gamba Irrigation Scheme will be supplying its produce to Lilongwe and Blantyre.

But, how has it been possible for this remote area to develop an irrigation scheme whose profile might turn to be an inspirational story for millions of Malawians in other parts of the country?

“Christian Service Committee (CSC) provided the materials and technical support for the scheme to set off. They installed the solar-powered water pump and trained us on how we can practise commercial agriculture even on a small piece of land,” says Ganda.

CSC Executive Director, Patrick Chimutu, says Gamba Irrigation Scheme is just part of the committee’s numerous projects under food security which take a systematic approach of responding to the effects of climate change.

With Malawi still reeling from the aftershocks of the floods and dry spells that ravaged the country at the beginning of the year—resulting in a drop in yields of major crops— climate-smart agriculture is booked as the lifesaver.

Towards the end of last year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that if the world maintains its ‘business-as-usual’ attitude on climate change, the opportunity to keep temperature below the international target of 2 degrees Celsius ‘will slip away within the next decade.’

“Time is not on our side… Leaders must act,” Ki-moon declared in Copenhagen, Denmark, in a statement which backed a UN report that equally warned that if left un-checked, climate change will increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.

And with just over a month after the UN warning, the deadly natural disasters struck Malawi, telling us that climate change is home—and should be tamed.

“Our focus has also been on low-cost technologies like agroforestry soil conservation, knowing that climate change is real. Evolutions in our food security programmes, financed by Dan Church Aid (DCA), have largely taken a right to food approach,” says Chimutu.

Formed in 1966 by the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) and the Malawi Council of Churches (MCC), CSC has its larger objective of doing development work which includes the construction of classroom blocks, teachers’ houses and drilling boreholes.

And since 1991, the food security programmes have also been part of the committee’s areas of concern, as the struggle for a food-secure global citizenry have taken prominence, particularly in developing countries.

“Our aim is that the communities in which we are working should be able to sustain the projects even after we have left. Already in our impact areas, there are committees that are running the projects at the local level,” says Chimutu.

Perhaps, if this remarkable challenge is replicated in more and more areas with locals being consistently told that rain falling will continue to defy the traditional predictions, Malawi will effectively sidestep the effects of climate change.

And while feeding the city north of it is the bigger motivator of its efforts, Gamba Irrigation Scheme does not let people who surround it go hungry.

“As you can see, we are very healthy people,” Flora Banda, a member of the scheme says.

“Food is not a problem here and even those that are not members of the scheme do benefit because we have a market nearby where we sell the produce,” she said.

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