Solar pumps help rural communities fight poverty

A family meeting that took place in one of the populous townships in Lilongwe on a chilly Sunday afternoon in 2008 changed the Moya’s lives forever.

After living for many years in the capital city, the family of seven felt the brunt of a quick-paced and expensive life that left them on the brink of starvation.

“We knew that it would be difficult for the children to accept our decision. For all the years we stayed in town, our average monthly income was about K3 500, which made our survival a struggle,” says Flora Moya, a mother of seven.

As expected, the children contested their parents’ decision but the die was already cast; city life for the Moyas was unbearable. After saying their goodbyes to friends and neighbours, the family trekked north to Gunda Village in Champhira, Mzimba, about 225km from Lilongwe.

“We had nothing to show for having stayed in town for many years. We decided to start from scratch by engaging in small-scale irrigation farming. Our first task was to till the land and prepare shallow wells for watering the plants,” says Flora.

She says they had the support of their neighbours, who had experience in irrigation farming, but says the job was tiring because water points were far from the garden.

The village where Flora and her family live is part of the area in which DanChurdAid (DCA) and its partner Christian Service Committee (CSC) is implementing its right to food programme. In 2009, DCA partnered with Grundfoss, a Danish private company, to support some of its programmes with solar pumps for irrigation.

Fortunately, the Moyas were part of the 4 000 beneficiaries of the medium scale irrigation project.

“Christian Service Committee saw how we were working and appreciated our problems. The water points were far, which meant less production as we were using watering cans to irrigate our fields,” says Flora.

Before joining the project, Flora was not realising much profit from the small garden. Annually, their sales would amount to about K9 000, which was not enough to meet the family needs.

But now, things are different. Flora and her family have now expanded their garden and instead of watering cans, they now use hosepipes to water their crops.

“Soon after the pump was installed, I planted beans and the crop responded well. I used money from the sales to buy fertiliser and expand my garden.
“I then grew onions and cabbages and the results were impressive as I realised about K190 000 from crop sales,” says Flora, whose husband is now looking after their new piggery business.

The solar pump project has transformed life for the Moya family. They can now afford to live a decent life and send their children to better schools. And this season, they have high hopes of making more money and finish building their house.

“I have 5 000 heads of cabbages in my field. If I sell them, I am expecting to get over K250 000 ($1 497). I will use part of the money to buy farm inputs and the rest will go towards finishing our house and buying basic necessities for our family,” says Flora.

Commenting on the project, DCA project officer for food security, Freeman Gonambali, says the solar pump irrigation has successfully mitigated effects of climate change in Champhira by providing water throughout the year.

“Before we started this project, the communities around Champhira were using shallow wells to irrigate their fields and these were not sustainable as they couldn’t produce enough water for plants to grow to maturity. And with the erratic rains, many families had food problems, but the solar pumps have changed all that,” says Gonambali.

Apart from irrigation, the solar pumps have lessened the problem of safe water access for the communities. Before the installation of the pumps, people would walk long distances in search of potable water but not anymore.

The solar-driven motor pumps the water to a communal tank and through gravity, the water is distributed to different water points. For irrigation or consumption, people simply open the many water taps fed from the main tank.

Flora concludes: “I don’t regret life in the village. We have running water and many of us have bought solar panels for lighting. Also, my family has made a lot of progress which we failed to do while in the city, thanks to the solar pump irrigation project.”

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