Malawi

Malawi: Chingondo irrigation scheme back to life after more than a year

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After being idle for more than a year, farmers from the Ngabu Traditional Authority in Nsanje district are happy to be cultivating Chingondo Irrigation Scheme again. Differences in rentals between their irrigation agreement and surrounding irrigation arrangements resulted in dispute, which, through key stakeholder negotiations have now been resolved.

All hope seemed to be lost when a majority of the farmers at the scheme abandoned their plots due to disagreements with landowners over rent fees. Of the 58 farmers who secured plots in 2017, only 5 farmers were still cultivating at the scheme by 2019. The farmers were growing nutritious crops such as maize and sorghum which were essential for a local, nutritious diet.

The Chairperson of Chingondo Irrigation Scheme, John George, cited glaring differences in rentals between their irrigation agreement and surrounding irrigation arrangements as the main cause of dispute.

“We were paying three times more than other water-sharing cooperatives, which was unfair. That is why most farmers decided to stop farming at the scheme,” he said.

The irrigation scheme was established in 2016 by Goal Malawi to help farmers consistently grow their crops all year round and improve the quality and productivity, in spite of unpredictable weather conditions. The purpose was to ensure a more reliable and stable supply of food for the communities to combat hunger.

When Malawian Civil Society Alliance member, the Tiphedzane Community Support Organization (TICOSO), found out about the situation and heard that the scheme is not functional, they took initiative, investigated the problem, and strategised on what can be done to help make the scheme operational again. With support from the Scaling Up Nutrition Pooled Funds Window I Cycle II, the organisation facilitated interface meetings with the farmers and local leaders as well as the Department of Agriculture and irrigation to enhance the revamping of the irrigation scheme.

In July 2020, TICOSO organized two face-to-face meetings between chiefs, agricultural extension workers, the District Agriculture Development Officer (DADO), the Area Development Committee (ADC), landowners, and farmers to help resolve the conflict over irrigation rents and routine availability of extension services that would improve the operationalization of the scheme.

Since the negotiations, 56 new farmers have re-joined the scheme and are actively growing their crops using the revived irrigation agreement. The lead farmer at the scheme, Friday Wellos, explained the importance of the scheme in the people’s lives and thanked TICOSO for intervening:

"After the discussions we came to an agreement that each farmer will be paying 1,000 Malawian Kwacha (USD 1.23) a year to the landowners, just like our friends in the other schemes. We are grateful to Tiphedzane Community Support Organization for bringing us together so that we can discuss the way forward and get back to utilizing the scheme which plays a huge role in our lives. As you are aware, Nsanje is a district of extreme weather conditions which destroys our property and crops. With irrigation we are able to grow crops all year round. With this scheme we are hopeful that we will yield more, earn an income from our produce, provide nutritious food for our families, and fight hunger.

Since then, a new committee for the irrigation cooperative was elected and there has been improved coordination between the Area Development Committee, Village Development Committee, and the committee to ensure that the scheme is fully operational and benefiting the community.

Ngabu Area Development Committee Chairperson, Christopher Thom, added that TICOSO is also encouraging them to plant diversified crops to ensure increased productivity and nutritious food.

“With advice from TICOSO,” Christopher says, “we have diversified our crops and instead of only growing maize, we have also planted vegetables, beans, carrots and onions. All along we have been lacking proper guidance and expertise on how we can increase agricultural productivity on our lands in order to end hunger. But now that we are united and equipped with knowledge, we are able to consult Agriculture Extension Officers allocated to our area and be guided on how best we can utilize our lands to get more from it.”