High electricity bills in areas where government is implementing the Small Farms Irrigation project may stifle government’s plans to handover the programme to smallholder farmers.
Malawi Government, through the Ministry Water Development and Irrigation, is implementing the Small Farms Irrigation Project (SFIP) at Lweya in Nkhata Bay and Nkopola in Mangochi.
In an e-mail response, James Kumwenda, an economist and public relations officer at the Ministry of Water and Irrigation Development, said the electricity bills they receive for running nine pumps at Nkopola farms are high and averages K 426 000 (about $1 065) per month
Said Kumwenda: “Whether using the pumps or not. With this huge monthly bill, it will be too difficult for the smallholder farmers to manage such a system on their own. The bills are too high and Escom is owed about K5 million (about $125) for both schemes.
Escom public relations officer Kitty Chingota, however, said her organisation cannot help the farmers to have reduced bills because electricity is heavily subsidised in the country.
“The way we charge electricity tariffs we do not look at which group of people is using the power. We only have two categories when coming up with tariffs and these are domestic and industrial and for your information electricity is heavily subsidised in Malawi and as an institution, we are operating at a loss,” said Chingota.
Meanwhile, Kumwenda cited vandalism as one of the challenges hampering the project.
“The construction of the pump stations was substantially completed in 2010, however, electricity was connected end 2011. The idle time led to vandalism of the delivery pipe line which is about five kilometres long. A contractor is currently working on finalising defects in readiness for the testing of the pumps,” he said.
Kumwenda also said farmers’ participation in the water user associations has not been encouraging, especially at Nkopola where few have taken interest in the scheme.
“It seems as if other farmers have alternative means of earning a living. The ministry is working on re-engaging the farmers through the appropriate structures at the district level so that they are fully engaged in the project,” said Kumwenda.
During phase one of the project, government sourced a $8 million loan from the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (Badea) to help fund the $10.04 million project.
But Kumwenda said the financial provisions in the initial loan agreement were inadequate to develop 1 600 hectares.
“It was, therefore, decided that the civil works should be implemented in two phases. Phase one utilised the provisions in the initial loan agreement to develop a total of 744 hectares for the two schemes,” said Kumwenda.
The loan agreement with Badea was signed on November 29 2001 and became effective on November 27 2002.
However, construction began in November 2008 and was substantially completed in December, 2010.
At least 4 000 farmers have been engaged at both sites and have planted maize and rice.