It is good news indeed that there has been a change of plan concerning the routing of the irrigation canal through Majete area in line with the original plan.
The plan, following the consultative committee meeting of February 9 2016, proposed that a rock wall be built along the open section of the canal which would have been extremely unsightly and unattractive to tourists.
This would have had a huge detrimental effect on Majete.
The routing underground is a far better option.
As long as the contractors use acoustic blasting screens during the weeks of blasting, then that disturbance to wildlife may not be so severe.
However, in spite of the proposed mitigation measures, the impact on Lengwe National Park will be even greater with 13 kilometre (km) of open canal bisecting the Park.
Ironically, the World Bank has provided funding for 12 new solar-powered waterholes, road grading, a scout camp and a conference centre and more chalets at Nyala Lodge in Lengwe.
A similar irrigation canal in Namibia (but admittedly much longer) takes a toll of 8 000 drowned animals every year.
These include warthogs, hares, baboons, antelopes, cheetahs, wildcats, foxes, jackals, aardvarks, kudu, onyx and eland.
Although Lengwe National Park does not have that density of wildlife, it makes what it does have even more precious.
A canal can be fenced and crossing places constructed, but it hardly constitutes an attractive feature bisecting a national park.
Fencing cannot prevent the toll on snakes and other small creatures.
It would be pertinent to know whether any of the “world-class experts” has considered the detrimental effect of huge quantities of fertiliser, herbicides and insecticides draining into streams and the Shire River from this large project.
The response states that “with regard to the protected areas, the multi-million investments will focus on Majete Wildlife Reserves (sic), Lengwe National Park, Mwavi, Matandwe Forest Reserve and the Elephant Marshes”.
Would the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development give details of what these investments will provide?
In its ‘correction of facts’, the ministry suggests that the land to be irrigated is “currently lying idle” and “where no crops were growing”.
In a presentation to Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi (Wesm) Blantyre branch, World Bank consultants stated that 223 000 people occupy the land. They listed the crops that they are growing.
We all know the challenges facing farmers in the area, but it is hardly the case that the project is taking over completely idle land.
The ministry’s response states that “the farmers will have a ready menu of enterprises to chose from with high profit margins”, but there is no mention of where these crops will be marketed.
It also declares that the project “will transform the agricultural sector in the country”, but, unfortunately, the geography of Malawi is such that the overwhelming majority of the country’s farmers will not be able to copy this pattern of gravity-fed irrigation.
So, it is not clear how this initiative will transform the agriculture of the whole country rather than that of the Lower Shire Valley.
The public should surely know all the facts when it is planned to spend $234.59 million on this agricultural project of which $ 210 million will come from the IDA and the African Development Bank—a loan that will have to be repaid by taxpayers.
However, as the saying goes ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’ or chikomekome cha nkuyu mkati muli nyerere, so let us see whether the SVTP does indeed transform the Lower Shire Valley. n