Lowe for improved irrigation schemes, key to achieving Malawi food security

Minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe and his deputy Agnes Nkusankhoma on Saturday toured various developments irrigation schemes in Zomba where  the Minister  directed engineers to ensure that  they fix challenges which farmers at the Agricultural Irrigation schemes are facing to ensure food security.

Lowe inspecting irrigation schemes in zOMBA
Lowe inspecting irrigation schemes in Zomba
The farmers at the irrigation scheme
The irrigation schemes in Zomba

Speaking after touring Njala and Likangala Rice Scheme in Zomba,   Lowe said he is impressed with the progress of the project which is supported by Agricultural Commercialization Project.

Lowe said  irrigation farming is crucial to achieving increased productivity and profitability of smallholder agriculture.

He said  concerns raised by the farmers at the rice schemes will be addressed as a matter of urgency

“It is in the interest of Malawi government to ensure that the irrigation schemes  are functional,” Lowe said.

During the tour farmers talked about the lack of electricity in the schemes which would be helping to set up milling the rice.

“We want each scheme to have good roads and electricity. For example Likangala has MAREP project so it is the wish of the ministry to ensure that the schemes are fully revamped,” He said.

During the tour , Lowe walked miles visiting the projects.

The Minister was seen moving in bushy foot paths connecting from one scheme to the other.

Minister Lowe recently  also visited the K1 billion rehabilitation work of Nambuna rice scheme in Dedza.

Lowe said  Malawi has a capacity of feeding itself if all irrigation facilities can be well utilized.

The objective of the Agricultural Commercialization Project for Malawi is to increase commercialization of agriculture value chain products selected under the project.

There are four components to the project, the first component being Building Productive Alliances.

This component supports the integration of small‐scale and emerging farmers (defined as farmers cultivating not more than 8 ha) into value chains by improving their capacity to finance and execute productivity enhancing investments and respond to the requirements of end‐markets and buyers (off‐takers).

The second component is the support investment enabling services just to mention but a few.

Malawi is home to millions of households that go hungry in a country that fails to grow enough food to meet her needs.

In a 2009 research article titled Agricultural Growth and Poverty Reduction in Malawi: Past Performance and Recent Trends, Chancellor College economics professor Ephraim Chirwa argues that in spite of the many policy reforms that have been implemented in the agricultural sector, its performance has been disappointing.

This ties in with the 2006 Ministry of Agriculture report which notes that the country’s agriculture is characterised by low and stagnant yields, over-dependence on rain-fed farming which increases vulnerability to weather-related shocks, low level of irrigation development and low uptake of improved farm inputs.

“In addition, there is low profitability of smallholder agriculture which has been influenced by weak links to markets, high transport costs, few farmer organisations, poor quality control and lack of market information.

“The interplay of these various factors has negatively affected agricultural development and growth, with implications on the contribution of agriculture towards poverty reduction,” reads the report.

Michael Jana, a political economist studying for a PhD in South Africa, has researched and published on the political economy of agriculture in Malawi.

Jana argues that for Malawi to make strides in commercial farming, the country needs to review its agricultural practices.

“We need a radical approach to eventually phase out subsistence farming and bring about commercial farming, create jobs, bring good returns to capital and hopefully be able to fund and develop the industrial sector,” he said.

Professor Chirwa, in a 2011 article titled From Subsistence to Smallholder Commercial Farming in Malawi: a Case of NASFAM Commercialisation Initiatives, shares a critical insight regarding the country’s continued failure in agriculture.

“The dominance of subsistence farming with traditional farming systems in the smallholder sector is one of the concerns in achieving higher agricultural productivity,” said Chirwa.

In searching for a way forward, a 2006 government strategy on agriculture recognises that intensification and commercialisation of smallholder agriculture are crucial to achieving increased productivity and profitability of smallholder agriculture.

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