Drought-hit Malawi turns to irrigation

Lilongwe - After two successive droughts, Malawi is diverting almost half of its budget for state-sponsored fertiliser subsidies to irrigation.

Malawiian Agriculture Minister George Chaponda told News24 on Tuesday that from the fertiliser subsidies annual budget of $98m, government was redirecting $40m to irrigation.

He attributed the change of strategy as a tactic to counter climate change.

"We can no longer bury our heads in the sand. Climate change is exacting a deadly toll on this nation that our efforts to fight hunger are in jeopardy," Chaponda said in an interview

With about three million Malawians poised to require food aid, Chaponda said Malawians were bearing the brunt of climate change.

He said $40m diverted from subsidy programme would prop up irrigation by buying pumps, engines and modern treadle pumps for 285 000 smallholder farmers, among other investments.

"By empowering these smallholder farmers, we expect to realise improved production of crops grown through irrigation," explained Chaponda.

Malawi had over the past ten years spent about $800m on Farm Input Subsidy Programme, an intervention aimed at improving food security by addressing resource poor smallholder farmers’ affordability constraints in purchasing fertilisers.

The fertiliser subsidies benefited 1.5 million poor farmers, but Chaponda said following the strategy change only 900 000 would be beneficiaries this year.

"Amidst the effects of climate change, hunger continues to haunt the beneficiaries of the programme who only depend on rain-fed agriculture," says Chaponda justifying what it is necessary to switch to irrigation.

Malawi had an ambitious Irrigation Master Plan aimed at increasing the current irrigated area of 104 000 hectares by a total of 116 000 hectares, with an investment of $2.4bn by 2035.

The country never explained how it intended to raise that huge amount but simply emphasised on its benefits.

El Nino Impact

This year’s El Nino hit the Malawi hard.

The country was still recovering from the devastating floods of last season, which killed at least 106 people and damaged 64 000 hectares of crop fields.

Malawi was not the only country in the southern Africa suffering from the consequences of drought as its neighbours were also facing the same crisis.

Mozambique had already started giving food aid to at least 500 000 of its nationals.

Zimbabweans was also struggling to raise $290 million to feed up to 4.5 million people.

The World Food Programme warned in March that at least 16 million people were already food insecure in southern Africa and recently the figure was revised upwards to about 32 million by the Southern Africa Food and Nutrition Security Working Group. 
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