Utale Communities Find Relief in Irrigation
October is the hottest month of the year in Malawi. Farm fields are dried up and farmers are busy preparing their fields in readiness for the next growing season.
It is, however, a different sight at Utale in Shire North in Balaka where fields are green with healthy crops, thanks to the World Bank funded Utale Irrigation Scheme.
When farmers elsewhere are preparing their fields for planting when rains, their counterparts at Utale are preparing to harvest their irrigated crops.
Mercy Renzo is expecting to make her debut harvest from a 0.6 hectares plot at Chigumukile scheme.
“I am expecting to realize 70 – 100 bags of maize from this plot. Previously, I could harvest about five bags only due to erratic rainfall in this area.
“With irrigation, I am able to control the amount of water required for the crops at any time as needed. This is why the crops are healthy in my field,” she said.
“This means food insecurity will be history in my family. I will be able to sell the surplus and pay school fees for my children from the proceeds. It will also save the people in the area from hunger because the maize will be sold right here to the people in my area,” she added.
Being a single mother of two, 42-years-old Renzo says irrigation has saved her from shame of being a beggar and indulging in malpractices for her to fend for the family.
“I see bright future ahead. My plan is to diversify and produce more so that I can earn more to secure land and build a house. This is my pension now. I started farming when I was 25 but it was just subsistence and could not even harvest enough. This is now a breakthrough,” she said.
Chairperson of the Chigumukile scheme, Alivesta Vincent, says the scheme has transformed the area from being hunger stricken to a food basket since the scheme project started.
“We are 210 beneficiaries reaping from the solar powered scheme. Last year, being the first year to start using the scheme, farmers used it on trial and they harvested a lot. This year, more farmers have shown interest and are expecting to harvest even more. They are planting crops such as maize, pepper and beans.
“Some of the farmers have opened shops, bought livestock, are paying school fees for their children and are building houses with proceeds from the farming. Farmers are benefitting a lot from it,” he said.
Group village headman Ngalawesa says theft cases have gone down in his area since people have now found economic activities from the scheme which are supporting their livelihoods.
“It is very hard to lead hungry people. Development goes down in that particular area. In my area, people used to starve and cases of theft were high.
“I am happy today that the scheme has brought people together and are working as one people. Socio-economic lives of my subject are developing. Very soon, people will be buying cars with proceeds from the scheme. My area is developing and I am happy as a leader,” he said.
Machinga irrigation division chief irrigation officer, Chisuse Iman, says the scheme has 210 hectares but 115 hectares are fully operational.
“Part of the scheme is submerged due to high water levels in Shire river and the other part was damaged by Tropical Storm Ana. There is a contractor on the ground rehabilitating those parts so that farmers can benefit even more,” he said.
Iman said the scheme has brought multiple folds impact to the communities.
“Firstly, Utale is located on a leeward area where it gets substantially low rains compared to other areas. Therefore, irrigation was provided as a safety net. Secondly, irrigation is also providing income besides consumption.
“Thirdly, people are getting employment by working in the fields. Most of the population is now busy with farming and we expect that immoral activities will reduce because people do not have time for that,” he said.
Utale Irrigation Scheme, registered as Chigumukire Water Users Association, is under Utale Extension Planning Area in Sub-Traditional Authority Chakanza, Balaka West constituency, in Balaka district.
The World Bank funded scheme has a potential of accommodating more than 1, 000 beneficiaries from areas of group village heads Ngalawesa, Chambuluka and Mtaja villages.
It has three blocks having 40 hectares of block one, 84 hectares of block two and 86 hectares of block three making it 210 hectares as a fully developed scheme.