Watering life with earth dams


The sight of brown, murky water in an open water source would, normally, quash any hopes of getting momentary relief among people who have grown up craving for potable water.

Ironically, this is not the case with people from Samuel Nhlane Village, Traditional Authority Mzikubola, in Mzimba District.

According to one of the villagers, John Tembo, people from Samuel Nhlane Village have limited sources of water for household and farm use, among them a borehole and well. The only other large source of water is a newly-constructed dam called Kalimadola— but the water is covered in dust and is dirty.


But the villagers, led by earth dam chairperson Tembo, are not complaining.

“This water from the earth dam means a lot to us, tobacco farmers other people in the village. Of course, we may not use it for drinking, but it can serve a number of purposes, including irrigating food crops such as and maize. For your information, tobacco farmers have been struggling to source water for watering their nurseries because this is a dry area which has had no large source of water for a long time and [tobacco] farmers have been travelling long distances to source water for watering their tobacco nurseries,” says Tembo.

Tembo adds that, despite the water seemingly being dirty and dust-infested, domestic animals such as goats have found a convenient source of water, while trimming the distance such animals cover to get to the nearest source of water.


“Most importantly, the construction of Kalimadola Dam has raised the water table in our area, meaning that water will be slightly closer to the ground, thereby making winter cropping possible. It [the dam] will, therefore, promote food security in our area. So, there are so many uses for the seemingly dirty water,” says Tembo.

The father of six, who retired as driver in the commercial city of Blantyre to concentrate on farming, says the dam— which was constructed in 2015 and has become an integral part of Ngundu Dambo [wetland] in the area— offers the promise of easy life for him and Samuel Nhlane’s other subjects.

Others set to reap benefits from the dam— which has taken well-wishers such as Alliance One and Imperial Tobacco Group K42 million to construct for the villagers— are people from Mashilika, Mugabe, Muyunga and Chimsolo villages.

However, Mzimba District Council is not the only beneficiary of the initiative, as farmers in Mukhota Village and other villages under Traditional Authority Chikulamayembe in Rumphi District stand to benefit from the availability of a water source close by.

Alliance One leaf technician for Luhono Scheme in Rumphi, Mirriam Mushani, observes that long distance to the nearest water source remains the biggest hurdle facing farmers in tobacco growing districts such as Rumphi, a development that sees farmers spending a lot of time moving from water source to the tobacco nursery.

Mushani, who provides expert help to farmers under Luhono Scheme, adds that problems associated with distance to the nearest water source negatively affect seedling management.

Allan Kachali, dam supervisor at Chikulamchere Earth Dam— which has been constructed by Phillip Morris International — says 400 members of 40 farming clubs in the district experience perennial water problems.

“On average, people travel four kilometres to get to the nearest source of water and this is not healthy. I wish our government could see sense in the construction of earth dams and emulate the example set by private sector players by constructing earth dams throughout the country. I wish the government would emulate what the private sector is doing as part of corporate social responsibility,” says Kachali.

According to Alliance One Tobacco Malawi Corporate Affairs Manager, Fran Malila, there are eight earth dams which have, so far, been constructed in Dowa and Kasungu districts in the Central Region, and Mzimba and Rumphi districts in the Northern Region, at a total cost of $565,000.

“Alliance One Tobacco Malawi Limited has constructed these eight earth dams in collaboration with Phillip Morris International and Imperial Tobacco Group. So far, these eight dams are assisting over 10,000 smallholder tobacco growers in the four districts to water their tobacco nurseries during dry season as well as using the conserved water for other agricultural activities,” says Malira.

Apart from Kalimadola [or Kamatawo] and Chikulamchere earth dams, the other constructed earth dams are Kabanga, Mpale, Nambuma, Kamanda and Chilanga.

“Some more earth dams will be constructed later this year as well as in the other subsequent years, especially in those areas where water becomes so scarce during dry season that it eventually becomes a challenge to the majority of local smallholder tobacco farmers who want to water their tobacco nurseries,” says Malira.

Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Minister, Allan Chiyembekeza, observes that irrigation, including the construction of dams, could play a key role in shoring up food security in the country.

Chiyembekeza, however, observes that this can be achieved if the government and private sector join hands.

“Otherwise, the government is committed to improving the food security situation in the country and we are not just looking at food crops. Cash crops play an integral role in economic development of the country as well, and are an integral part of our policies. Malawians should join hands to ensure that our agricultural policies benefit all of us,” says Chiyembekeza.

That way, probably, the seemingly dirty waters from the earth dams could end up cleaning up Malawi’s water-access and economic challenges.

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