Ending hunger through self-made irrigation system


For close to a decade, Traditional Authority Kambalame’s area, situated 35 kilometres from Salima Boma, experiences food shortage every year due to erratic rains as a result of climate change.

But Mdala Aubi’s family in the area is not shaken at all. Thanks to the gravity-fed irrigation system he constructed on his garden, his family has enough food to eat and sale.

Unlike many smallholder farmers in the area and across the country, the 58-year-old Aubi did not wait for government’s or non-governmental organisations’ (NGOs) support to start living his dream.


“You should know that I have never entered a classroom and the only occupation I know is farming. So when the rains started to be erratic from around 2003, I began to ponder on better ways of sustaining my occupation and maintaining my food basket,” Aubi says.

Aubi’s dream to switch from rain-fed agriculture to irrigation began in 2004 after admiring an irrigation scheme opened with support from an international NGO, near his home village in Dedza.

Immediately, the inspired Aubi decided to buy land near a water source and, luckily, he found the land in Mbatamira Village close to the banks of Ngodzi River in Salima where he is today.


He began irrigating the land using two treadle pumps but the endeavour proved to be too involving.

“Soon I realised that using treadle pumps was too hard for my age and size of the farm. I decided to try an engine pump but the immediate challenge was the high cost of the equipment.

“The solution was to buy the engine pump in South Africa; so I struggled to raise money then sent my son to South Africa. Unfortunately, he came back with home appliances instead,” he says.

Left frustrated, Aubi clung to his dream until 2014 when an NGO called Coopi came in the area to support a group of farmers to open an irrigation scheme on the land opposite to Aubi’s on the other side of Ngodzi River.

“When I saw that the irrigation scheme was mushrooming on the other side of the river, I approached one of Coopi managers and asked them to channel some of the water to my land but they refused, saying they do not support individuals.

“They asked me to join the group but I refused because my desire was to irrigate a big piece of land and be independent,” Aubi says.

That was the last stroke but he vowed to make his dream possible.

“For three days, I could go by the Coopi-supported irrigation scheme to study their system, only to realise that it required some engineering knowledge which I don’t have as I have never attended any formal education,” Aubi says.

Using home plumbing pipes which he bought at K67,000, Aubi put up the system, tapping water from a pool between rocks high on the bed of Ngodzi River.

To get full gravity speed, the pipe drops at 150 degrees angle following the riverbed slope.

He uses ropes to hang the pipeline eight metres high along the steep rock embankment and it runs some 150 metres before emptying in the field where the water is spread through a 350-metre long canal.

“It wasn’t easy to connect and put the pipes from the pool through the high sharp embankment. Twice I fell from five metres high while struggling to hang the pipes but that did not make me change my mind,” Aubi says.

Since completing the system last year, Aubi is now all smiles as he is able to irrigate the bigger part of his five-and-a-half hectares.

He happily grows food and cash crops and this winter he hopes to make up to K450,000 from sales of the cash crops, namely soy beans, tomatoes and winter fresh maize.

“That people of this area are still struggling to get food is just news to me; the irrigation farming is saving me,” he says.

There could be many farmers wanting to go into small or large-scale irrigation but high cost of irrigation equipment is one major setback.

“I believe that others would want to join the bandwagon but maybe the setback is the high cost of equipment such as pipes, engines and, indeed, lack of technical assistance from experts,” Aubi says.

District Irrigation Officer, Mayamiko Kombi, says government is currently only assisting irrigation farmers working in groups under schemes and it only assists individuals if they have resources.

“I have seen Mr Aubi’s irrigation farm but I have not been there physically, as you know our procedure is that we only work with groups that are in government or NGO-supported schemes,” Kombi says.

Gift Jeremani of Coopi says he admires the effort by Aubi as it proves that farmers can go into serous irrigation without waiting for government’s or NGO’s support.

“Currently, most farmers depend on support from government or NGOs but such dependency has proved a failure because the schemes fail to be sustained when the support is stopped.

“If we can have more people like Aubi, things can really change in Malawi,” Jeremani says.

From Aubi’s endeavour, it is clear that if more smallholder farmers take up their tools without waiting for government, more households will successfully end the cycle of hunger which has been accelerated by erratic rains.

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