Nsanje irrigation expert say the risk of drought disasters which the district has been facing over the years can be alleviated by the use of solar energy powered irrigation which improves crop yields subsequently achieve food security.
District irrigation officer Movete Mkandawire while applauding Enhancing Community Resilience Programme (ECRP) which is under the consortia led by Christian Aid Malawi and being implemented by ActionAid Malawi in Nsanje district said in times of disasters such as droughts solar powered irrigations are crucial to small farmers by rebuilding their livelihoods.
Mkandawire gave an example of a 200 million kwacha Chinolo Solar Powered irrigation scheme in the area of Traditional Authority Mlolo in the district constructed under the ECRP which over 212 farmers are benefiting from it.
He said different types of irrigation ranging from shallow wells, and the use of treadle pumps have been used but has yielded low results as compared to what the Chinolo Solar powered irrigation scheme beneficiaries are producing.
As part of sustainable agricultural development, Mkandawire noted that the solar-run irrigation system has a high potential value in terms of previous sustainability benefits, but this new system has also some negative observations that have to be voiced in different project areas.
The Nsanje irrigation engineer further hinted that the district has unpredictable weather patterns and persistent drought hence solar energy irrigation is a solution to alleviating food shortage in the district.
"Nsanje district has been facing a lot of challenges in as far as food insecurity is concerned because of effects of climate change which brings about disasters such as droughts and water flooding. Farmers have been trying to fine copying mechanisms by among other things doing irrigation farming using the old methods.
"However, they have been failing to produce more as the old irrigation systems are labour intensive which need more human power. So, if the people are food insecure, it means they can hardly put much power on the initiative hence the need to find better ways such as solar energy to make their work easy but also effective.Solar water pumps allow a permanent, regular and adequate irrigation of the fields, especially for small farmers' fields," observed Mkandawire.
He applauded the six-year ECRP project which brings together various experience and expertise into a comprehensive and holistic package of activities designed to improve food security, reduce vulnerability and strengthen resilience for coming up with the initiative which have seen small farmers produce enough for consumption but also income.
"A good example of the positive impact of the solar energy irrigation is being experienced at Chinolo irrigation Scheme. The scheme started in 2014 with only five farmers. These farmers were using shallow wells to irrigate their crops. However, upon the coming in of ECRP to institute a solar powered irrigation, over 200 small farmers started their irrigation activities in a 28 hectares' irrigation scheme.
"I am not only saying about the numbers but they are also producing more to feed themselves and generate income for their themselves and their families. Therefore, as the district we are very appreciative for the ECRP project," said Mkandawire.
YohaneKubalalika, a small farmer benefiting from the solar powered irrigation supported by the ECRP said they have now realized their potential in terms of producing more through the irrigation farming which was not the case in the past when we only use shallow wells.
Kubalalika said his family has been producing enough for food and income as it is easy to water big piece of land and reduce labour intensive.
"We are used to facing effects of climate change such as drought and floods which affects crop production. We have been using shallow wells and treadle pumps to irrigate crops but yielding just little. We feel that solar powered irrigation is an answer to food security in times of droughts and even floods," he said.
ECRP District Coordinator William Nyirenda said the solar powered irrigation has proved to be beneficial and effective to the small farmers in Nsanje district as other means of irrigation such as treadle pumps have been hard to use but also achieving low production.
Nyirenda said farmers who are using the solar energy for irrigation have been producing enough for their consumption and income generation.
"Farmers are able to irrigate their crops without hurdles as compared to other means. From the experience, small farmers are really producing more for food and income generation of which is project's goal," said Nyirenda.
The Enhancing Community Resilience Programme (ECRP) objective is to reduce extreme poverty and hunger in Malawi and ensuring there is increased resilience of 305, 000 vulnerable households and their communities to climate variability and change
ECRP is a project under the consortia led by Christian Aid Malawi. The consortia comprise of a number of agencies and implementing partners including Action Aid. The programme is funded by the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID) among others.