Lilongwe — Lemieux Chikadza, a 41 year old groundnut farmer from Chadza II village in the area of Traditional Authority Malili of Lilongwe excitedly watched President Dr Joyce Banda together with TA Malili walk towards the switch which turned the light at once a dark trading centre.
Chikadza cannot help but say to himself "Electricity at last" as Dr Banda presses the on button effectively switching on street lights and bringing electricity to 26 households. His excitement grew even more as the president commissioned one of three maize mills that would signal the end of three kilometer journey to Chigwirizano just to have maize processed into flour.
"I am so excited that finally we have electricity. I had never dreamt that one day we would have electricity in this forgotten trading centre. Imagine we would travel three kilometers to Chigwirizano township just to have our maize processed," said Chikadza in an interview with Malawi News Agency (Mana).
Chikadza added that those who would not afford K500 transport to Chigwirizano to have their maize processed resorted to pounding their maize into flour, a task which could take up much of the women's time.
"Not all of us could afford to have our maize milled at Chigwirizano as a result, our women could therefore spend the whole day pounding maize into flour since the area did not even have diesel powered maize mills," said Chikadza.
Zinkwani Kalanguluka from the same area who has become one of the first business men to own an electric powered maize mill gives thanks to phase seven of the Malawi Rural Electrification Project (MAREP) which will see 27 trading centres of which four including Chadza II are in Lilongwe namely Kadziyo Trading Centre, Santhe in TA Khongoni and Chiunjiza in TA Masulaand he told Mana that electricity connection will open up the area to a lot of business opportunities and development.
"The electrification of our trading centre will open the area to a new world of endless economic opportunities. People will no longer leave the village and settle at Chigwirizano Township in search for greener pasture attached to electricity," said Kalanguluka.
Traditional Authority Malili in his speech during the switching on ceremony said the electrification of Chadza II will have a trickle-down effect on development of the entire TA as the key obstacle to development of the area has been lifted.
"The area is too primitive considering that it is three kilometers away from Chingwirizano Township which is in the capital city and five kilometers from the nearest trading centre with electricity. Imagine in 2014 people would pound maize into flour. The situation will greatly change following the electrification of this area as people will open milling and welding businesses," said Malili before asking the president to extend the program to the TA's Headquarter in Chiwanga Village.
Dr Banda, in her speech said electrification of rural areas is a key to unlocking development in remote areas as investors are attracted to electricity.
"I am happy that I have seen the situation for myself, the area is greatly underdeveloped. I concur with what TA Malili has said; there is no need for one to tell you about the poor state of the area... I asked myself how can an area develop in the absence of electricity," said Banda.
Banda said rural economic growth can only be attached to electrification of the area as people will spend more time doing chores which could be done quickly with electricity.
"If we do not bring facilities such as electricity to rural areas, people in the rural areas will remain poor. People will continue spending many hours pounding maize instead of engaging in income generating activities," said Banda.
Minister of Energy Ibrahim Matola said his ministry is working towards increasing the country's capacity to connect and adequately supply electricity to the growing demand which will be 1200 Megawatts by 2025.
"Dr Joyce Banda told us to boost our energy to cater for the growing electricity demand. By 2016 the demand will be 600 megawatts, in 2020 the demand will be 950 megawatts and in 2025 the demand will be 1200 megawatts," said Matola.
Matola said among other strategies, the Joyce Banda government has sourced funds from the Japanese government rehabilitate Mkula A and B, and Tezani hydro electricity plant, and increase power generation through the energy reform project by Millennium Challenge Account.
"In short, Madame President has signed several agreements with various development partners to boost our energy sector so that we can meet the growing demand by 2016, 2019 and by 2025... The President last year in June signed an agreement with a Gezubal Group of Companies from China which will boost the power sector with 300 megawatts at Kam'mwamba," said Matola.
Matola also mentioned the agreement with Intra Energy which will produce 120 megawatts from coal at Chipoka. And with funding from World Bank, the Government of Malawi and African Development Bank the country is exploring alternative hydro power points at Bua, Kholombizo and Mpata Manja Gorge to feed into the main electricity power grid.