Ending hunger with solar


Solar power could be an ignored game-changer as poor farmers in Malawi are grappling with drought and other effects of climate change, JAMES CHAVULA writes.

In Chikwawa, nearly 450 households are gradually walking out of the twin curse of hunger and poverty by harnessing the power of the sun to irrigate their crop fields.

No back-breaking peddling of treadle pumps. No noise, fuel costs and spirals of smoke from sooty exhaust pipes of diesel engines. Just water noiselessly gushing into their plots where maize, potatoes, cassava, pigeon peas and egg plants are flourishing.

The farmers in the sweltering Lower Shire Valley district find the use of solar-powered irrigation facilities as cost effective, time-saving and friendly to the environment.

Vegetable plots in Nasele Irrigation Scheme

Beyond disasters

In Nansele Village, where Stephanos Foundation established a 10-hectare irrigation scheme last year, rural Malawians who were chronically haunted by hunger say solar energy solutions have transformed their livelihoods and economic prospects.

Chikwawa and Nsanje usually suffer the harsh effects of climate change, especially floods and prolonged dry spells.

Two years ago, they were among 15 districts ravaged by what President Peter Mutharika termed the worst flood disaster in the country’s history. Crop fields were hit as well.

Director for Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services, Jolamu Nkhokwe, urges farmers in the fertile valley to use weather information disseminated to disaster-prone populations to plant on time and settle for appropriate seed and crop varieties.

“Clearly, times have changed,” he says, explaining: “Accurate information is critical in production of food crops. Use the updates we provide to reduce losses due to climate change.”

Stephanos Foundation programmes manager Chimwemwe Hara backs the call for farmers to embrace new ways that guarantee them adequate yield despite climate shocks.

To set the pace for change, government and its partners are introducing climate-smart irrigation solutions across the country.

In Traditional Authority (T/A) Maseya, the solar-powered irrigation scheme is changing livelihoods.

Ending hunger

According to T/A Maseya, the irrigation system has lifted over 450 households out of persistent food insecurity.

“They harvest three times a year,” he says. “Not long ago, most households weren’t harvesting enough to take them to the next harvesting period.”

The picture is changing though the area keeps receiving insufficient rains.

“Climate change has hit many farmers hard, but the solar technology is helping us yield enough in these tough times,” Maseya explains.

Irrigation experts tout solar-powered irrigation systems as a clean and sustainable strategy to beat impoverishing effects of climate change and environmental degradation.

Tapping the power of the sun helps create ‘green jobs’ and alleviate energy woes and food shortages while cutting back on carbon emissions.

At Stephanos, Hara and water expert Jos Joosse are convinced that the Lower Shire Valley districts could become epicentres of the country’s economic development if farmers embraced solar energy solutions to improve agriculture.

The two, whose organisation is striving to lessen the impact of climate change in Chikwawa, Thyolo and Blantyre, are excited with the change happening in Maseya.

“Our organisation focuses on uplifting the well-being of children since most of them are either orphans or having a single parent, we aim to empower the guardians economically through trainings and provision of equipment like this solar irrigation system.”

Change is evident

Government has embarked on an ambitious Greenbelt Initiative to utilise fresh water bodies and underutilised land to increase food production.

Chikwawa District director of planning and development Kelvin Harawa says Nansele Scheme in Maseya is in line with the national agenda.

He commended Stephanos, saying most villagers in Maseya are gradually upgrading from grass-thatched huts to decent homes roofed with corrugated iron sheets. n


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