Minister of Agriculture Irrigation and Water Developement Dr Allan Chiyembekeza says his Ministry has began the process of intesfying solar powered irrigation in potential irrigable areas along Lake Malawi.
He said the initiative is part of the implementation of the country’s first ever Irrigation and Investment Master Plan which was launched last year.
Chiyembekeza said this after inspecting six newly developed irrigation schemes under the Karonga Irrigation Service Division- KRISD which is comprised of two districts Karonga and Chitipa where farmers are growing various crops including Rice, Maize and Sweet Potatoes
Timoti, Ukanga and Mphinga schemes have been developed at cost of 500 million us dollars under the Smallholder Irrigation and Value Addition Project (SIVAP) and are using the river diversion and gravity fed technology.
The other three solar powered schemes are Chitindi ,Lemero and Ndembwera which were constructed using resources amounting to 93 million us dollars from the Climate Adaptation and Rural Livelihoods in Agriculture Project(CARLAP)
In a follow up interview after the exercise Chiyembekeza said he was pleased to note that the schemes which communities have started utilising but are yet to be handed over to them have increased irrigable sites in the two districts by 450 hacters
“ I am impressed with the new schemes especially the solar irrigation system which is very suitable for areas along the lake because of the hot weather conditions, however we need the private sector to come in and do this on a larger scale and profitably,” said Chiyembekeza
The Minister however expressed concern over increasing siltation and drying up of rivers which has come about due to massive deforestation in the country, saying Malawi is paying a heavy price for this and will continue to struggle if people continue to attack the environment at the present alarming rate.
‘You people have seen what is happening here, even the newly developed schemes are already facing water challenges because of the siltation, this is a seriously problem and almost every place is becoming non irrigable due to water challenges,” Chiyemebekeza complained
His concerns also comes on the sidelines of an event where farmers at Lufilya Irrigation scheme lost over 200 hacters of rice as a result of the drying up of Lufily River which was the man source of water for their scheme.
Asked on what the solution would be to the highlighted challenge the Minister hinted on alternatives such as use of underground water which requires a lot of energy and maximize use of the Lake for irrigation purposes by using all available means including solar power.
On their part farmers were excited with the newly established schemes and hopes are high that if fully utilized the schemes will transform their lives.
Timoti Kayange a Member of Timoti Irrigation scheme said he joined the group without knowing he would benefit greatly.
“Last year I planted Maize on my small plot of about 0.14 ha and harvested 5 bags of Maize weighing 50 killograms each, a thing which I could not achieve with the rain fed farming” confessed Kayange.
He also indicated that as a group they are involved in environmental protection programs to protect Ngisi River which supplies them water
Another farmer who is a member of Chitindi irrigation scheme Chrissie Ngosi said solar powered irrigation is very easy and that they never expected to have such a project in the area.
Ngosi asked authorities to also consider supporting farmers with fertilizer other than seed only.
Before inspecting the schemes the Minister met technocrats at the Districts’s Council where he drummed up support for the implementation of the of the country’s irrigation master plan which seeks to increase the country’s irrigation area by 116 000 hectares in the next 20 years from last year and requires about 2 billion us dollars.
KRISD has a total arable land of 220,000 hectares but division has the potential area for irrigation of about 20,000 hectares. Currently, the area under irrigation is about 2,874 hectares representing 13 per cent and benefits 15,832 farmers.
Nationwide, 104 thousand hacters is being utilised from a potential of over 408 000 ha. 52 500 ha is under smallholder while 51 500 ha is under estates.
The Private and commercial estates have not been growing significantly over the past 14 years a development that has prompted the Minister to challenge the private sector to abandon the ‘cheap talk’ and approach his Ministry on what they can do and what help they would require from government to facilitate their investment in the irrigation sector.
He emphasized that no private sector has tabled any comprehensive and ambitious investment plan in the irrigation sector.
During its annual conference in Mangochi,the Economics Association of Malawi ECAMA blamed government for doing little in spearheading growth in the irrigation sector accusing government of wasting huge resources through the Farm Input Subsidy Program which critics say it is not helping the nation to become food secure.
This year alone an assessment by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment committee has projected that over 2. 8 million people are food insecure.
President of the association Henry Kachaje has on many occasions accused the government of lacking direction in the way it is managing the Agriculture sector citing misalignment of priorities.
The schemes have been constructed with funding from the African Development Bank –ADB which is supporting the Climate Adaptation and Rural Livelihoods in Agriculture Project –CARLAP and the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program –GAFSP currently financing the Smallholder Irrigation and Value Addition Project -SIVAP
New projects which will start from 2016 in Chitipa and Karonga are the Songwe River Basin Development Programme –SRBDP which will construct a multipurpose dam at the lower course of Songwe River. The dam will be used to irrigate about 3,150 hectares in both districts.
Another project which is in the pipeline is the Programme for Rural Irrigation Development (PRIDE) poised to develop 700 hectares while the Green Belt Initiative GBI will develop about 1,000 hectares.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :