State-owned Greenbelt Authority (GBA) has unveiled plans to partner willing private local and international investors in the implementation of massive irrigation and agro-processing projects, a move experts say is a game-changer.
In a statement GBA, trading under the GBI Holdings Limited (GBIHL), said it is exploring joint venture projects that could spur economic development.
The plan is in line with Malawi 2063 (MW2063), the country’s long-term development blueprint, which puts agricultural production and productivity among key pillars.
To fulfil the plans, GBA said it is seeking local and international investors with over K500 000 capital to apply for the Public Private Partnership (PPP) joint venture irrigation projects.
The projects include rice irrigation scheme, cannabis (industrial and medicinal) irrigation scheme, bamboo plantation irrigation scheme, legumes irrigation scheme, livestock project and wheat irrigation scheme project, among others.
Reads the statement in part: “In the pursuit of its mandate, GBIHL invites investors (local and international) to jointly develop various irrigation and agro-processing facilities, establishment of a joint venture (JV) company between GBIHL and investors and the operation of the JV Company.”
Agriculture experts have described the move as long overdue, saying it will revolutionalise the agriculture sector and transform the economy.
In a written response, National Association of Smallholder Farmers in Malawi chief executive officer Betty Chinyamunyamu described the move as a game-changer; stressing that irrigation is a catalyst for transforming agricultural production systems in the country.
“The identified value chains have the potential to be successors to tobacco in earning foreign exchange as well as import substitution when we consider that they are high-value crops with multiple uses,” she said.
Chinyamunyamu said what is critical is to examine the production models to ensure that they include smallholder farmers in the target areas.
In addition, she said there should be a robust market development for the products.
Agricultural policy and development expert Tamani Nkhono Mvula said large-scale irrigation programmes are key to boosting agricultural output.
“It is my hope that GBA has put in place mechanisms to deal with the challenges associated with this kind of investments,” he said.
Nkhono Mvula said the problems to do with land, access to water, electricity and others have left many of the ambitious projects to be on paper despite the hype they created.
GBIHL has three known joint ventures with the Indian AUM Sugar and Allied Limited running Salima Sugar Company and an Israeli company, Inosselia Agro Africa Limited running the horticultural Greenbelt Greenhouse Limited as well as the Nchalo Greenbelt Initiative Limited in partnership with Nchalo Smallholder Cane Growers Association.
There have been growing calls from experts for the country to embark on serious irrigation investments to spur economic development.