‘All eyes on Shire Valley Transformation Programme’

 ‘All eyes on Shire Valley Transformation Programme’

 The day was uncharacteristically cool for Chikwawa District when Agriculture Minister Sam Kawale arrived at the first inspection site.

Kawale immediately got down to business after an exchange of pleasantries with the Korean supervising engineer upon arrival that Friday midmorning.

“Are you okay with the pace [of construction]?” he asked Francis Lim, a representative of the consulting engineering firm Korea Rural Corporation (KRC) who had welcomed him.

“Yes, yes,” engineer Lim replied and went on to brief Kawale on the progress made so far on the construction of the main irrigation canal of the Shire Valley Transformation Programme (SVTP).

Construction workers pave the main canal of the SVTP in Chikwawa

Only the previous day, the Budget and Finance Committee of Parliament had been at a similar spot, watching construction workers busy paving the canal.

“The nation’s eyes are on this project,” Kawale, who was visiting SVTP for the second time since he became Minister of Agriculture in October 2022 would later say.

If there is a development programme government has undertaken that is giving Malawians hope at a time the country is confronted with a myriad of problems, it is the SVTP.

Looking at its magnitude, the SVTP demonstrates government’s determination to promote irrigation farming by tapping the abundant water resource Malawi is blessed with.

The 14-year SVTP got off the ground in April 2020, and it is expected to provide solutions to problems of shortage of foreign exchange and food insecurity when completed.

It is, therefore, not surprising that all eyes are on the multibillion-kwacha programme which regularly plays host to local and foreign visitors.

Visitors praise the Malawi government for implementing such an ambitious project, which is touted as the largest of its kind in southern Africa.

The SVTP was conceived in the early 1940s and was prioritised in the then government development blueprint called the Shire Valley Project.

It is an irrigation project that aims to improve lives of people of the Shire Valley and across Malawi through commercial farming.

The Department of Irrigation (DoI) in the Ministr y of Agriculture is implementing the SVTP with support from the country’s development partners.

The programme will irrigate 43 370 hectares by abstracting water from the Shire River at Kapichira Dam and conveying it to the irrigable area in Chikwawa and Nsanje districts through canals.

The main objective o f the SVTP i s to increase agricultural productivity and commercialisation for it s targeted 48 400 households in the two districts.

The Malawi Government, World Bank, African Development Bank and the Opec Fund for International Development are currently financing the SVTP.

Construction of the 118- km main canal from Kapichira Dam to Bangula is underway, with contractors Conduril of Portugal and China’s Sinohydro Corporation Limited involved in the work.

Conduril was responsible for constructing the first six kilometres of the canal and the coffer dam at Kapichira, both of which have been completed.

Kawale’s seven-hour tour took him to various sites before he met members of Kambadwe Cooperative in T/A Kasisi to wind up the visit.

“This is a massive development project and, not surprising, all eyes in the country are on it. You are blessed to have such a project,” Kawale told members of the cooperative.

He advised them to cooperate among themselves to ensure the success of the project which he said would not only transform the Shire Valley, but also the whole nation once operational.

The SVTP will not operate like existing irrigation schemes. Targeted farmers will consolidate their parcels of land to form large commercial farms between 600 hectares and 1 600 hectares each.

Farming will be done on a commercial basis using motorised machinery such as centre pivots—a method of irrigation—and tractors.

The farms will operate as cooperatives and agribusiness companies will be employed to manage them.

Fifteen cooperatives have been established and legally registered in the first phase of the project. It is anticipated that there will be 30 cooperatives altogether.

The consolidated pieces of land will be converted as shares. Land owners will receive dividends according to their land shares.

Kambadwe Cooperative was one of the earliest to be established and is expected to start receiving water from the canal towards the end of the year, barring any unforeseeable obstacle.

“The Shire Valley will be an example not only here but across the country of what is good about irrigation. You will be able to harvest more than once a year,” Kawale told representatives of the 453-member cooperative.

Kambadwe Cooperative has chosen to grow soya, sorghum, groundnuts and mangoes on 294 hectares of land. The Minister was told markets had already been identified for the crops.

And summing up his tour in an interview with reporters, Kawale expressed satisfaction with the work done so far, despite the fact that there had been some delays due to cyclone Ana.

“After seeing the progress, I can assure Malawians that we are moving towards realizing the vision of having a food-secure nation using the Shire Valley Transformation Programme,” he said.

“When every thing is operational, over 43 000 hectares being developed will not only feed the southern region of Malawi, but will spill to the rest of the country.”

Kawale said the government had now seen the folly of solely relying on rain- fed agriculture and that it was the reason Malawians were being encouraged to embrace irrigation farming.

“Irrigation is the way to go. You will see a lot of investment going towards irrigation because [with irrigation] we can control water, we can control production,” he said.

Of the country ’s 407 862 hectares available for irrigation, only 148 000 hectares have been developed.

In the 2024-2025 National Budget, K100 billion has been allocated to irrigation farming.

The Budget and Finance Committee of Parliament echoed Kawale’s sentiments when it also visited SVTP, describing it as a vital development initiative that would spur the country’s economic growth.

The committee’s chairperson, Gladys Ganda, who is also the lawmaker for Nsanje Lalanje Constituency, said they made the tour following President Lazarus Chakwera’s State of the Nation Address this year.

Chakwera, in his address, said the way for Malawi to achieve food security, job creation and wealth creation in the shortest time was through what he calls the Agriculture, Tourism and Mining (ATM) strategy.

The strategy entails boosting productivity in agriculture, tourism, and mining sectors.

“ The President wants to increase investment in agriculture, tourism, and mining. So as Budget and Finance Committee of Parliament, we had to come and see the project for ourselves,” Ganda said.

She said the SVTP deserved full support, observing that it was a big project that could turn around Malawi’s economy if managed properly.

“We are importing a lot of things that we are not supposed to be buying from other countries,” she told reporters. “This is a good project because it will produce substitutes for those imports.”

She said her committee would lobby with the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs to expedite the project.

“The moment we expedite the project, I can assure you that issues of foreign exchange will be a thing of the past, hence the need to support it with good monies,” she said.

“By the way, this is a project for the whole country and not just for Chikwawa and Nsanje districts. It will benefit every Malawian.”

Kambadwe Cooperat ive chairperson Samson Beyard said that for a long time, people of the Shire Valley had been held in contempt because “we are seen as lazy people who rely on handouts”.

“We are not lazy. We often have hunger because of drought and floods. This irrigation project will put a stop to the sneering and we can’t wait for it to start operating,” Beyard told this writer.

“We will not be the same with this project. It will transform our lives as we will harvest bumper yields. Eventually, we will have the last laugh. We can’t thank government enough.”

Kawale said starting this year, his ministry had put in place an irrigation master plan, and that the moment the SVTP was operational, food security in the country would slowly be attained.

“But most importantly, there will be job creation and value addition for export purposes. The economy will start transforming slowly and then faster once we invest more in irrigation,” he said.

“Government is placing emphasis on irrigation farming because we can no longer rely on rains.”n

The post  ‘All eyes on Shire Valley Transformation Programme’ first appeared on Nation Online.

The post  ‘All eyes on Shire Valley Transformation Programme’ appeared first on Nation Online.