Parliament has authorised the government to borrow $160 million (about K117 billion) from the World Bank to finance an ambitious agricultural project in the Shire Valley.
The project seeks to increase agricultural production through irrigation and support to farmer organisations.
The Shire Valley Transformation Project is expected to run for a period of 14 years from 2017 at a total value of $575 million to be funded through loans from the World Bank, African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Government of Malawi.
Tabling the bill yesterday, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe said the three pillars of the project were to put in place a reliable and sustainably financed irrigation programmes through a phased construction of schemes, supporting farmer organisations on land use and land tenure and establishing investments in smallholder farmer enterprises.
He said: “The first phase to be implemented between 2017 and 2023 will involve processes on all pillars in Chikwawa and Nsanje such as irrigation, land tenure for farmer organisations and natural resources revenue generation.”
Gondwe added that existing estates and smallholder farmers in Nsanje and Chikwawa would benefit through access to irrigated land, production and marketing skills as well as access to financial services.
“The expected economic activities are enormous if well managed,” he said.
Malawi Congress Party (MCP) spokesperson on finance matters, Alexander Kusamba Dzonzi, said convincing the House to authorise the borrowing should translate to change in livelihoods for the people of Lower Shire Valley districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje.
He said government should not leave out the component of identification of markets to ensure ready markets for produce from the project.
On her part, Salima South West MP Jessie Kabwila (MCP) appealed to government that the Shire Valley Transformation Project should not be another dream for the people of Nsanje.
She was apparently referring to the aborted Nsanje World Inland Port which has not taken off years after construction.
The project was one of former president Bingu wa Mutharika’s “colour dreams” and sought to connect Malawi to the Indian Ocean port of Chinde in Mozambique through Shire and Zambezi rivers over a distance of 235 kilometres, which could have been the shortest route to the seas; thereby contributing to low transport costs for both imports and exports.