Private sector shies away from irrigation

Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has decried low private sector participation in the irrigation sector, resulting in a paltry two percent growth in 13 years.

In an interview, director of irrigation services Geoffrey Mamba said while access to finance and land have been major obstacles for private sector participation,  recent land reforms will help in facilitating access to land by the private sector in the country.

Irrigation is a capital intensive venture that needs a holistic approach

“Over the past 13 years, when we look at irrigation development by the private sector, there has only been about one to two percent growth.

“So, we would like to call upon the private sector to play a leading role because in most of the countries, if we talk about irrigation development, the drive is from the private sector but in Malawi, this has slightened over time,” he said.

Mamba, however, expressed hope that the situation could change with the interest the department has been receiving from the private sector.

“Irrigation occupies a prominent position in the country’s strategies, and the ministry is aware that the private sector and development partners are willing to invest in irrigation development.

“There is also some interest in foreign investment in irrigation and government is strongly committed to the development of irrigation sector,” he said.

Recently, government revised the National Irrigation Policy (NIP) 2016, developed the National Irrigation Master Plan and Investment Framework (2015-2035), established the National Irrigation Fund and formulated the National Agricultural Policy where both existing and new irrigation schemes will be identified.

Weighing in, David Kamchacha, managing director of Mtalimanja Holdings, a firm that grows sugar cane and rice through irrigation, blamed the situation on abandonment of irrigation schemes which he said distorted irrigation development in the country.

“Irrigation is expensive when you want to have equipment for irrigation. Again, irrigation is viewed as public goods where government should come in and private sector can just have access.

“The country had irrigation schemes from Karonga to Nsanje, but then they were abandoned. Irrigation is a way to go considering that due to climate change, one cannot predict the rainfall pattern.

“This is why we need to invest so that we can grow crops twice or three times in a year,” he said.

Benson Sumani, chief irrigation officer in the Blantyre Irrigation Services Division said the country is underutilising its irrigation potential with only 110 hectares of land being used for irrigation out of the available hectares.

Government has been calling on the private sector and individuals interested to venture into large-scale irrigation farming to partner it, a move Farmers Union of Malawi said would need prioritising and empowerment of local farmers to bear fruits.

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  1. Where the Malawi government puts farm output exports restrictions; Irrigation becomes a hard thing to think of investing in considering huge capital investment it requires. Until Farmers are assured of good farm produce markets local and a broad, they will not think of investing in the irrigation farming.

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