By Watipaso Mzungu:
Downhill the Mswamphira Hills in the remote villages of Group Village Head Mswamphira Mwandira in Traditional Authority (T/A) Mabilabo in Mzimba, over 75 small-scale farmers have grouped to end food and nutrition insecurity.
The farmers have secured technical support from Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) for the construction of a modern Chamnkhwere Irrigation Scheme, which is under the Champhira Extension Planning Area (Epa).
Through the medium scale irrigation scheme development, operation and maintenance (MIDP 2 Project), Jica is enhancing capacity for medium scale irrigation scheme development, operation and maintenance, which is key to the sustainable and successful irrigation scheme).
The ultimate goal of the project is to strengthen government’s direct management, farmers’ self-help participation and collaboration between irrigation and extension officers in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development so as to attain a cost-effective and sustainable irrigation schemes at community level.
Besides Chamnkhwere Irrigation Scheme in Mzimba, the project is also supporting Champhole Model Irrigation Scheme and Nachisaka Irrigation Scheme, which are under Nachisaka EPA in T/A Msakambewa in Dowa.
In Dowa only, over 210 small and medium scale irrigation farmers are benefitting from the project.
The inhabitants of Mswamphira Hills have become the latest beneficiaries of JICA as the agency has offered to assist them revive Chamnkhwere Irrigation Scheme, which has been dysfunctional for decades now.
The scheme was constructed early 1990s under the Income Generating Public Works Programme (IGPWP), but the villagers did not yield its fruits because the scheme broke up a few months after construction.
Chamnkhwere Irrigation Scheme chairperson, Simeon Kathabwalo Chirwa, says the scheme was poorly designed, leading to its eventual failure to supply water to the farmers.
“The project brought a lot of excitement among the locals here. But its failure to supply water to our fields disappointed many,” says Chirwa who is also Village Head Kathabwalo.
MIDP 2 Project chief advisor, Dr Doi Yasuhiro, says the ultimate goal of the project is to complement government and community efforts in addressing food insecurity through building and enhancing the capacity of the irrigation farmers.
“We have selected two model sites in Dowa and two others in Mzimba where they are going to implement the project,” said Yasuhiro.
The government and other experts have acknowledged in various forums that irrigation and water development remain key to the country due to its direct linkages with the production of food and cash crops.
They all agree that Malawi, being one of the countries blessed with vast irrigable land and rivers and lakes overflowing with water all year long; deserves to be one of the largest exporters of food and other non-food related materials to desert-stricken countries such as Israel.
But this is not the case. Instead, Malawi is the one perpetually begging food from states, including those built on deserts where water is not only an expensive resource, but hard to find as well.
This begs a question: Why are Malawians hungry amidst vast water resources? Why is Malawi failing to utilise her water bodies to develop and expand irrigation from where she can grow enough for food and export?
Or indeed, why should Malawian farmers stay mostly unproductive every dry season, yet the basic resource for their industry [water] goes to waste?
It is not surprising, therefore, that former UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) officer in Malawi, Des Fortes, once expressed shock that Malawians were failing to use water resources available to them like the wetlands otherwise called dambos for irrigation purposes.
Chief Irrigation Officer for Mzuzu Irrigation Services Division, Tinkho Msimuko-Mpezeni, is optimistic that modernising the scheme will greatly improve and increase the production of safe and nutritious food to meet a growing demand-driven by population increase.
Msimuko-Mpezeni further believes that irrigation farming will help generate jobs and incomes for the Mswamphira Hills inhabitants and contribute to poverty eradication and rural economic growth of the area.
“After modernising the scheme, we anticipate that over 100 households will benefit because the targeted area is 30 hectares. We anticipate that they will produce high quality vegetables and cereals for sale at Jenda Rural Growth Centre and other markets, including Mzimba and Mzuzu,” he says.
On his part, the Dowa district irrigation engineer, Jackson Manda, expects that the installation of the canals will help the farmers become independent of government, particularly in terms of running the scheme.
Deputy Director for Irrigation Services in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Chawanangwa Jana, says Malawi is using only 25 percent of the total land that has potential for irrigated farming.
This translates into only 112, 000 hectares of land being utilised out of the 408,000 hectares at the disposal of farmers.
“There are indications that our farmers are eager to engage in irrigation but lack of resources remains a challenge. We should pump in more resources so that the remaining farmland can be covered by our smallholder farmers who can start irrigating their crops,” Jana says.
Additionally, a recent study of the country’s potential for irrigation carried out recently identified 57 potential irrigation projects in the country.
Of these, seven are in the northern region, 12 in the centre region and 38 in the south.
Out of the 38 potential sites for irrigation in the southern region, 25 are in the Lower Shire Valley.
The report says most of this land lies in the plains along the shores of Lake Malawi in Karonga and Nkhotakota, Salima, the Lake Chilwa Plain, the Lower Shire Valley and the flood plain of Limphasa River in Nkhata Bay in the northern part of the country.
“These areas have fertile soils and adequate water resources for the development of irrigated agriculture,” the report reads.