The Green Belt Authority (GBA), a government agency that manages irrigation projects, has called on the local private sector to invest in bankable irrigation projects under its domain, saying the returns are lucrative.
GBA acting chief executive officer Amon Mluwira said in an interview in Blantyre last week that the authority—established in 2015 as part of public sector reforms and falls under the Office of the President and Cabinet as an independent entity—is currently working on four major projects which the private sector can take advantage of.
The irrigation projects that are on feasibility, inception and implementation levels include Illora-Nthola-Ngosi Irrigation Scheme in Karonga, Salima Sugar Project, a $90 million (about K66 billion) public private partnership (PPP) venture in which government has a 40 percent stake, Lower Shire Nchalo Irrigation Project, whose main crop is cotton and Greenhouse Project at Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe, whose first supplies will be ready in June this year.
Said Mluwira: “We understand that the private sector has not been participating in irrigation projects because it is very expensive to build modern irrigation infrastructure.
“What we have done as Green Belt Authority is to build bankable irrigation infrastructure and let the private sector come in to do the farming.”
He said having laid the groundwork, they will engage the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) to see how they can come in to invest in the projects.
MCCCI chief executive officer Chancellor Kaferapanjira could not be reached for comment yesterday.
But in an earlier interview, director of irrigation service in the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Development Geoffrey Mamba also decried low private sector investment in the irrigation sector, which resulted in a paltry two percent growth in the sector over the past in 13 years.
He said access to finance and land have been major obstacles to private sector participation, but added that recent land reforms could help in facilitating access to land by the private sector.
Other irrigation projects the authority is working on include the aquaculture and Irish potato projects with the Malawi Police Service (MPS) and Malawi Defence Force (MDF).
The MPS has identified 1 000 hectares (ha) at Mbalangwe in Ntakataka, Dedza to grow crops and rear livestock while the MDF has identified 2 000ha at Gada Estate in Mchinji for irrigation.
Figures from the ministry show that the country has 408 000ha that could be irrigated, but only about 104 000 or 25 percent is under irrigation farming. n