1. Malawi: Villagers’ project builds irrigation and food security (by Gladson Makowa for Farm Radio Weekly in Malawi

| January 10, 2011

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The village of Tiopaizi was badly affected by food shortages in 2001. It lost five adults and a number of children to hunger. Mr. Alick Bimphi is a farmer in the village, located in Dowa district, central Malawi. He says, “Many people showed [signs of] malnutrition like swelling and getting thin.” The community decided to take action to prevent this from happening again.

Mr. Albert Kumwenda was the local agricultural advisor at the time. The villagers asked him for suggestions. He took them to visit the Ngolowindo irrigation scheme in Salima. The villagers saw that the community in Salima produced enough food through irrigation. This motivated the Tiopaizi villagers to create an irrigation scheme of their own. They named their irrigation scheme Chiombola − which means “it saves.”

Since then, the villagers have built their irrigation scheme, a river diversion project. There is now less hunger in Tiopaizi, and many people are self-sufficient in food. But the villagers faced many challenges along the way.

The first problem was a scramble for water. Many people wanted to use water at the same time. But there is only enough water pressure for a few people at a time. Mr. German Banda is a farmer and participant in the scheme. He suggested that people divide themselves into groups. The groups would then access the water in rotation. Different groups now receive water on different days, under the leadership of Mr. Banda.

The second problem was a shortage of material to maintain the dam and canals. The main canal wears away, as it was initially built of packed earth, not concrete. The annual maintenance costs were expensive. According to the headman, the villagers did not just sit and wait! Instead, they approached a number of non-governmental organizations. But none supported them. To make matters worse, in 2005, Mr. Kumwenda, the helpful agricultural adviser, was replaced by a person with little interest in the project.

The Chiombola scheme survived for eight years without external support. In 2009 the villagers invited Story Workshop to attend a local food festival. Story Workshop is an NGO that works on food security in Malawi. The NGO learned about the villagers’ situation, and encouraged the community to raise money for cement. The community raised enough to buy four bags of cement. Story Workshop donated nine bags.

Story Workshop understood that the community wanted to build the irrigation scheme without any external technical support. But the NGO encouraged them to contact the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Development for advice on how to ensure that their facility would last many years. The villagers met the new district irrigation officer, Mr. Mwandilanga Kumasala.

Mr. Kumasala was impressed with their hard work. He contributed 10 bags of cement from his department. He said, “I am challenged with their motivation and hardworking spirit. There are many villages where we built irrigation schemes, where the facility is lying idle. But these people are working on their own − to me it is a plus.” He promises to work hard to find funds for them, emphasizing that they deserve his support.

Seeing the success in Tiopaizi, neighbouring villages have been motivated to start their own schemes. They have learned a good lesson in self-reliance from Tiopaizi.

Gladson Makowa writes for Farm Radio Weekly as part of Farm Radio International’s Senior Writers program. He works with Story Workshop as Media and Communication Manager. Read more about their work at http://www.storyworkshop.org/.