The much touted initiative to use Malawi’s abundant water resources for irrigation farming in the face of climate change which has impacted on the country’s food and nutrition security, looks set for launching by the end of the month, Coordinator for the Green Revolution Development Programme, Professor George Kanyama Phiri has disclosed. The programme, coined the Green Belt Initiative (GBI), aims to increase irrigation farming from the current 90, 000 ha to 1,000, 000 ha along the 28,750 Km2 stretch of Lake Malawi, Africa’s third largest freshwater lake, the 303 Km2 Lake Malombe, an inflation of Malawi’s longest and largest river, the Shire River, which forms part of the great East African Rift Valley and draws its water from Lake Malawi and the Shire River itself which spills into the giant Zambezi River. According to Kanyama Phiri, government is set to launch the initiative at the end of the month of September.

Meanwhile, Press Agriculture Limited last Wednesday handed over 6, 290 ha land in the central region lakeshore district of Salima to the Malawi government through the Minister of Lands and Housing for the plantation of sugarcane under the GBI. “Construction of canals and pipes on 500 ha of land which will be used for growing seed for multiplication already began last June,” said the coordinator adding that the land, Chikwawa Estate, will have its own sugar processing plant. Kanyama Phiri disclosed that the Malawi government has already sourced US$40 million funding for the sugar manufacturing plant from the Indian government. He said the GBI will be implemented in phases with Phase one targeting the sugar plantation at Chikwawa Estate, Nthola Ilora Ngosi Scheme in the northern region lakeshore district of Karonga which will cultivate rice, eastern region Lake Malombe Rice Irrigation Scheme in Mangochi and the 42, 000 ha Shire Valley Chilengo Scheme on the country’s southern tip.

The coordinator said the target is to have a radius of 20 kilometers along the banks of the country’s water bodies under irrigation. He said the sites were chosen on the basis of equity (one site in each region) as well as irrigation potential. In addition, the Shire valley is a potential food basket area but a rain shadow area. “Through the GBI, government intends to increase productivity of crops from the current 25 per cent to 50 per cent as well as improve livestock and fisheries,” he said. In the end the country is expected to increase agricultural exports and foreign exchange earnings, increase crop, livestock and fisheries diversification, and improve value chain linkages and operations through increased private sector participation in agricultural production. The Initiative will also improve access to social infrastructure and support services, increase smallholder income levels and employment opportunities as well as improve access to water for various uses and assist it establishing new rural growth centres and rehabilitating new one.

Malawi has an agro based economy which accounts for more than 80 percent of the country’s export earnings and contributes 36 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). It provides a livelihood for 85 percent of the population. Smallholder farmers contribute about three-quarters of agricultural production. Despite the country being endowed with a variety of natural resources which include arable soils and a vast expanse of water systems which covers over 21 per cent of the country’s territorial area, Malawi depends on rain-fed agriculture to achieve food security, increased income and ensure sustainable socio-economic growth and development.

Over-dependence on rain fed agriculture has led to low agricultural production and productivity due to weather shocks and natural disasters such as unreliable rainfall patterns, erratic rains, dry spells, pest and diseases, droughts and floods. “As such, the Government of Malawi has therefore formulated the Greenbelt Initiative with an aim to use the available water resources to increase production, productivity, incomes and food security at both household and national levels for economic growth and development,” said Kanyama Phiri adding that the initiative has the potential to transform Malawi from a predominantly consuming and importing country to a producing and exporting country. Once on the roll, the initiative will spur reduction in poverty levels through wealth creation among the farming communities. It is geared to improve export led economic growth, improve social development, increase employment opportunities, and improve food and nutritional security, and reduced rural – urban migration.

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