Apart from commercial farmers, the Green Belt Initiative also targets smallholder farmers. The goal is to lift them from poverty for good. But how much of this initiative do the smallholder farmers understand? EPHRAIM NYONDO writes in this second part of the series.
Early last year, Samuel Msomela, 31, and John Amos, 49, from Siliya Village, T/A Nkalo, Chiradzulu, were stunned.
“Our village head told everybody in the village to stop cultivating along the banks of Lichenza River,” says Msomela.
As obedient subjects, they obliged. However, a cloud of confusion hovered over their heads. They just could not figure the heart out of the beast. But with days, they began to see the answers.
“We saw people coming with machines and planting them on the river banks. Then, we saw a dam being constructed along the river,” says Amos.
The dam he talks about is one of several dams that government is constructing as part of the Green Belt Initiative (GBI).
The initiative, which targets smallholder farmers such as Msomela and Amos, aims at using the available water resources to increase production, productivity, income and food security both at household and national levels for economic growth and development.
Surprisingly, Msomela does not seem to have a deep understanding of the initiative which is being implemented in his area to lift him out of poverty.
“I just heard on radio once. They were talking about it. I heard the [former] president [Bingu wa Mutharika] wants to build new dams across Malawi which will be used for irrigation farming. Beyond that, I just donâ€™t understand what this is all about.
“I do not even know how it will work and how local farmers like us will take part. Perhaps we will be communicated to as time goes by. But from the few information I gathered, it appears it is a good idea. We are just keeping our fingers crossed,” he says.
Another area earmarked for the implementation of the initiative in Thyolo, according to district irrigation officer Benson Semphani, is Khongono, located south-west of the district.
“Almost 120 hectares have already been realised. Feasibility studies have been completed. Currently, we are just waiting for a detailed topographic survey, systems design and scheme construction.
“We have also finished sensitisation meetings with the communities to the initiative. We talked with a number of farmers on issues of land and also how they will participate,” he says.
He even outlined how the scheme, once constructed, will work.
“Government will construct the scheme. After that, its management will be transferred to villages, which will then form what are called Water Users Association.
“It is these associations which will be running the day-to-day affairs which include effective management of the water and also to negotiate for better prices for inputs and their produce,” he says.
Though a number of villages interviewed in Khongono Village acknowledge being sensitised, few understand the gist of GBI.
“What we heard is that government wants us people to adopt new ways of farming, using irrigation. We were told that once this is done, poverty in the village will be history.
“But basically, I donâ€™t know how this will be done; neither do I understand how I will be involved in the whole thing” says John Mokhiwa, a Khongono villager.
However, Mokhiwa underlines that he is convinced that it is a good idea.
“We are looking forward to it. We will support it because we want development in our area. My prayer is that it starts soon,” he says.
The two instances might be isolated, of course. But they do, to some extent, show the knowledge deficit on the part of the locals. Has there been enough sensitisation?
With the first phase, which began last year and spans through to 2014, the question everybody is asking is: Do the local people, especially those earmarked for participation, really understand what this initiative is about?
PART III: While there evidence that the Green Belt Initiative has set off, the locals still do not understand the gist of it. At what stage is the initiative? A comparative study with how India successfully implemented the programme gives a good yardstick.