By Imam Wali:
Vast fields of tea, tobacco, rice, cotton, maize and legumes in various parts of Malawi signify the country’s fidelity with what keeps it rolling economically.
Yet what is getting off those crop fields is dwindling in the face of unpredictable weather patterns and unfamiliar pests.
But in Dedza East, over 2,000 farmers are set to parry their worries away as they embark on long-term sustainable irrigation projects on fields surrounding Bwanje Dam. The water body is now trapping water that used to rage down to Lake Malawi without any control.
The €11.2 million facility, funded by the European Union (EU), will also allow households to use its water for domestic purposes apart from generating electricity.
“What has been impossible all these years will now be possible. We will be growing crops throughout the year,” says President of Bwanje Valley Irrigation Scheme, Timothy Kapambe.
Located in Mtakataka, one of the areas in Dedza East that are prone to flash-floods and dry spells, Kapambe hopes the dam will turn around agriculture fortunes in the area.
“It will be easy for farmers surrounding the dam to grow crops such as potatoes, maize and beans. Fishing will also be possible,” Kapambe explains.
The 5.6 thousand cubic millimetres water body, which President Peter Mutharika commissioned in July this year, has raised hopes of farmers who are already eyeing markets outside the country for their rice whose production they expect to triple.
They also want to have a small factory for processing some of their farm produce.
“Above all, the nutrition status of our people will be improved, especially under-five children and lactating mother s , ” Kapambe says emphatically.
Over 200 rice farmers from Mganja, Mtakataka, Golomoti and other areas under Traditional Authority (T/A) Kachindamoto’s jurisdiction are among the happiest following the construction of the multi-use water-trapping facility which is expected to be in use for at least 50 years if properly protected.
But rice farmer Arnold Chikuse has a familiar entreaty to his fellow farmers: “We have to put much effort in our farming business. The dam will not do the tilling and caring of crops.”
Chikuse is, however, positive that the facility will allow thousands of farmers to go full throttle into commercial farming.
This, he believes, will be realised if the government and other stakeholders assist them with farm inputs and loans to sustain their activities.
“Our biggest fear is lack of support for us to venture into fulltime commercial farming so that we can feed the nation. We are capable of doing that if we are sufficiently supported,” he says.
T/A Kachindamoto sees another dimension to the dam initiative. It will save her area’s trees, which have been falling victim to charcoal producers.
The dam, she says, is the greatest development initiative her subjects should utilise to its fullest.
“There is no excuse now, especially for communities surrounding the dam,” the chief says, further urging them to conserve the manmade facility by planting trees around it and avoiding cutting down those already there.
At her behest, all those mismanaging the dam will face punishment.
When commissioning the facility, Mutharika emphasised that it should contribute to national food security by supplying water to the existing 800 hectares under irrigation and more.
“Before the dam was constructed, farmers were cultivating on 800 hectares only, but from now going forward, farmers will be cultivating on 1,600 hectares throughout the year. The dam will ease challenges which smallholder farmers were facing.”
EU Team Leader for Infrastructure Social Sector in Malawi, Virginia Laffauei, is also hopeful that the dam will improve the livelihoods of rural communities to sustain social-economic development.
Kapambe and Chikuse see themselves together with thousands other farmers in Dedza East in the picture. They insist that time should be the best judge.