Jacqueline Mussa had a rude awakening some four years ago when her garden along Mphamba River was swept away after Gala Dam had burst due to heavy rains.
“I was terribly shocked because I had just received some orders from five customers, who wanted my produce,” narrates the farmer who grows maize, tomatoes, onions, cabbage and Irish potatoes for both home consumption and sale
Mussa, 55, a widow with seven children says the 2015 tragedy was life-threatening. The garden is her only means of survival. For years, she largely depended on the crop field irrigated by the Gala Dam in Traditional Authority (T/A) Masasa, Ntcheu.
Concern Universal, now United Purpose (UP), constructed the dam on Mphamba River in 2007 for irrigation to ensure farmers were growing crops more than twice a year. In no time, most families along the riverbank started cultivating a variety of crops to overcome hunger and poverty.
“The construction of the dam in 2007 brought hope to many villages and provided a reliable source of income and employment.
“So, when the dam burst in 2015, it was a tragedy that shocked everyone in Kalima, Kadambo and Chapita villages. We lost our lifeline,” says Joyce Chizungu, who heads a committee of 12 responsible for managing the dam and demarcation of plots
She reckons life became unbearable as farming activities were disrupted.
“We struggled for years to uplift our lives,” Chizungu says.
Not any longer.
The farmers can now afford a smile as the Department of Disaster Management (Dodma) rehabilitated the dam.
Chizungu says the rehabilitation works provided temporary employment to 42 community members.
“The unskilled workers were receiving K1 500 a day for 120 days,” she says.
Tomato farmer Patrick Makunga, 36, commends Ntcheu District Council for strengthening the resilience and deepening the dam, which now stores more water for irrigation and home use.
Some farmers along the river are renting out their crop fields to other people in the area.
But there is need to connect water channels to crop fields to boost irrigation, observes Makunga.
“Most farmers are using treadle and motorised pumps to irrigate their gardens after drawing water from Mphamba River as it is being adequately supplied by Gala Dam,” he explains.
The farmers believe that once the water channels have been extended to gardens, the area, where many farmers rely on rain-fed agriculture, would get bumper harvest and improve economic activities in the area.
“I’m utilising the current water resource to grow more crops and sell more this growing season. I want to buy a solar power system for home use,” says smallholder farmer Elena Malunga.
The rehabilitation of the dam has brought hope to the rural locality. The farmers envision themselves making more money as they grow crops three times a year instead of waiting for the rain. They hope to increase their income and reduce hunger as they yield more than their household needs to be food secure.
“We will protect the dam to avoid what happened to us in 2015. We plan to plant vetiver grass around the dam to prevent soil erosion,” Malunga says.
According to committee secretary Richard Chitsonga, the dam supplies 72 plots where farmers grow various crops for sale at Bembeke and Lizulu trading centres.
Their fresh harvest goes all the way to the cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe.
“We are grateful to Dodma for coming to our rescue. We are happy that the dam has been rehabilitated. The only part remaining is to fix the water channels to supply water to farming areas along the river banks,” Chitsonga says.
According to Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development principal hydrologist Hastings Mbale, the rehabilitation works cost K107 million.
“Government is aware of the remaining works of connecting the water channels for the farmers to have access to water supply. We are working with the council to ensure the remaining works are done,” he says.
Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Joseph Mwanamvekha describes the restoration of the dam as strategic move to improve food security and livelihoods in the country.
“We are encouraging farmers to venture into modern irrigation farming and develop a culture of planting two or three times a year. If they put the project to proper use, household incomes will improve for the better in due course,” he says.