Swaziland: New dams to be built to boost irrigation

from IRIN
Published on 30 Nov 2005
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
MBABANE, 30 Nov 2005 (IRIN) - Three dams are to be built in southern Swaziland at a cost of R280 million (US $44 million), in response to nearly a decade of drought that has slashed agricultural production.

The dams, ranging from eight to 48 metres in height across the Lower Usuthu river, are expected to be completed in 2008 by a consortium of local and South African construction companies.

"Our primary object is to improve the lives of the people and we urge them to make use of the dams, which will be of great benefit to them," said Dr Lukhele, CEO of the Swaziland Water and Agricultural Development Enterprise, at a signing ceremony this week.

Nearly a third of Swaziland's 1.1 million people will again be forced to rely on food aid this year.

Some of the firms working on the new project were involved in Swaziland's largest public works undertaking, Maguga dam, which spans the northern Komati river and is 60 percent owned by neighbouring South Africa. Although Maguga opened in 2003, the water level has never exceeded 25 percent of capacity.

Expectations that the water would be used for lowveld irrigation projects have not been realised, necessitating the new Lower Usuthu initiative. Plans to capture the flow of southern Swaziland's largest river were first drawn up in 1996, but have now been given urgency by the ongoing drought.

"There are cyclic patterns of wet and dry years. When the Maguga dam was completed it was the end of the wet years, which is why its water level has dropped. If we want to increase irrigation in the country, we must come up with new dams to hold available water," Lukhele explained.

The Ministry of Agriculture has urged small-scale Swazi farmers to combine their land into cooperatives and cultivate cash crops for export. Only cooperatives, not individual farmers, would receive irrigation water from either the Maguga or the Lower Usuthu Smallholder Irrigation Project.

Four out of five Swazis reside on communal land as subsistence farmers, and the government's poverty alleviation efforts in rural areas hinge on making agriculture a viable commercial venture for them.

Until now, the emphasis has been on farming sugar cane - Swaziland's top export. However, major sugar plantations have been downsizing operations and laying off thousands of workers as sales have slumped.

Prices are pegged to the strong South African rand, making exports less competitive, while the European Union, which has subsidised Swaziland's sugar industry by buying a fixed quota above global prices, plans to slash the price it pays by 37 percent.

Prime Minister Themba Dlamini returned from England on Wednesday, where he had impressed upon British government officials the disastrous effects the price cut would have on the Swazi economy. "As we presented our case, we noted that most small-scale farmers in the kingdom are also in sugar farming. If the price is reduced, their situation will be worse."


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