Minister of Agriculture George Chaponda has said the biggest irrigation scheme in southern Africa, the Shire Valley Irrigation Scheme will not be ready until after 2018.
He said there are several feasibility studies to be done before the establishment of the scheme which is expected to ease chronic food shortages in Malawi.
“His Excellency the President is expected to lay a foundation stone in 2018 before activities start,” he said referring to the 43000 ha scheme which will be full of canals coming in and out of Shire River, the biggest river in Malawi which takes its water mainly from Lake Malawi.
He said the first feasibility study starts in December 2016 followed by a detailed feasibility study in 2017 preceded by a donors conference.
Responding to concerns by an agriculture expert Dr. Rodrick Champiti that there were few extension workers in the Shire Valley for the project, Chaponda said the government will hire enough extension workers to meet the demand.
He said the government will ensure that the project is a huge success.
Shift from FISP to irrigation
Meanwhile, government is planning to relocate K28 billion from the K68 billion budget of 2015-2016 located to Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP) last year as the remainder goes to interventions aimed at boosting irrigation.
Minister of Agriculture Chaponda told traditional leaders from the southern region in an effort to map a viable and sustainable way out of the perennial food shortages the country is experiencing.
“The next FISP budget will be reduced and the money will be used to buy things like pumps, engines, modern treadle pumps that will be disbursed to smallholder farmers in an effort to improve food production among families which will translate into improved food national basket,” explained Chaponda.
Chaponda said the 285,000 smallholder farmers that the country has are going to benefit from 27 solar powered mega panels for water pumping as well as more efficient treadle pumps plus other accessories to venture into irrigation.
“By empowering these smallholder farmers, the country expects to realize 140 metric tones of maize through winter cropping,” added Chaponda.
Justifying the K28 billion switch from FISP to irrigation, Chaponda explained that in the face of the current climate change, investing in FISP much relies on rain which for the past two years has proven a loss hence the change of approach.
Chaponda extended by stating that the money reduction will translate into a slash of the number of beneficiaries from 1.5milion in the 2015-2016 agricultural years to 900 thousand in the next season.
The traditional leaders who represented the southern region during the meeting agreed with the plans saying for the past two years people have failed to realize enough from the rain fed agriculture despite FISP.
The leaders pledged their support by ensuring that their subordinates understand the concept of winter cropping as a lasting solution to the food shortage.
Traditional Authority Malemia of Nsanje added that for the lower Shire, the approach would enable the area to produce food that may even be enough for the nation at large.
“We have the Shire River and a high water table in general so we are best positioned to venture into irrigation and if seeds and fertilizers are provided for the same purpose, Malawi is likely to benefit,” explained Malemia.
The change in approach is coming at a time when Malawi for the past two consecutive years has failed to meet its food needs despite billions of Kwacha invested into the FISP which is aimed at improving farm produce.
This year 8.5 million Malawians are expected to suffer from hunger if no interventions are made and so far donations have already started coming in to save the suffering Malawians.
Government and other stakeholders are currently looking at viable and sustainable ways of mitigating the climate change impacts and irrigation continues topping the list.—Additional reporting by Ida Kazembe, ManaFollow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :