Discovering Community Solutions in Solar Irrigated Farming

Dec 1, 2017

Government and UNDP officials inspecting part of the Issa Mponda Irrigation Scheme

Zione Nyamula is a 31-year-old woman from Issa Mponda village in Mangochi district, whose story to achieve her dreams through irrigated farming continues to inspire and motivate women in her community.

Zione recounts how after being married for 10 years and with 3 children, her husband died and her life came to a standstill. Her late husband was the sole breadwinner in the family, and with his passing, all the family responsibilities fell on her shoulders alone. As a single mother with no job, no savings or business prospects, and with three children to feed, clothe and send to school, she was running out of hope.

Out of desperation, Zione joined the Issa Mponda Irrigation Scheme under the Nansenga Extension Planning Area in her district. Through irrigated farming, Zione has enjoyed a turnaround in her life and she is finally able to see a pathway to prosperity.

However, her road has not been an easy one. Zione recalls how when she joined the irrigation scheme in 2015, the group had to use a diesel pump to lift water from the river to irrigate the fields where they grew maize, tomatoes and other vegetables.

The cost of her membership fee to be part of the scheme, coupled with her contribution to purchase diesel fuel for the pumps as well as cover the transport cost of collecting the fuel from the nearest filling station 17 kilometers away from her village, cut severely Zione’s family income.

These challenges did not deter her dreams.  Zione recalls the break that completely changed her fortunes for the better.

Through the Climate Proofing initiative coordinated by the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, with support from the United Nations Development Programme in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, her group received a solar-powered irrigation pump.

The low-cost solar PV system was transformative according to the members of the scheme. Gone was their previous tedious, costly and time-consuming method of collecting diesel fuel. Gone too was the noise and dirty smoke that affected their work in their fields.  At a touch of button, the irrigation system pumps water from the Mtemankhokwe River to the scheme’s fields through low-cost canals built by the community.

Because of the solar powered irrigation system, the group has grown its membership rom six members in 1997 to 53 members as of 2016, and has expanded its area under irrigation expanding from 1.1 hectares to 5.7 hectares.

The group now has bigger goals.  They plan to further expand to 7 hectares, growing a variety of crops to improve their food security and nutrition of everyone in their community.

For Zione, the arrival of the solar powered irrigation system has brought other benefits.  She can shift her attention from irrigating her crops to diversifying her income. Through the new irrigation system and her determination, her profit margins have now greatly improved and she is now able to provide for her family and save enought for future investments.

“What I make now is the most money that I have ever handled in my life. I have managed to build a much better house and have bought more livestock. I also manage to save from what I make for the next farming cycle,” she says.

My two children are now going to school with a full tummy. They eat in the morning. I give them money for lunch. And when they come home from school, there’s food waiting for them. These are some of the things that motivate them to stay in school, and for me to look to new opportunities”, she explains.

The Group Village Headman in Issa Mponda area also attests to the benefits of the solar powered irrigation scheme and its transformation of his community. “A lot of lives have changed because of the irrigation scheme. It makes me proud as a chief to see my community progressing because of such developments,” he said.

UNDP Portfolio Manager for Resilience and Sustainable Growth, Andrew Spezowka, described how encouraging it is to see a group of committed women and men take a leading role in the Climate Proofing initiative.

Disaster prone districts like Mangochi can improve their resilience to droughts and floods by promoting afforestation that helps to protect their watersheds and irrigation schemes.  We are impressed with how Mangochi District Council is supporting the community to implement the Climate Proofing initiative,” said Spezowka.

Climate Proofing is a five-year initiative (2014 – 2019) funded by the Global Environment Facility through the Least Developed Countries Fund.

Through the Climate Proofing initiative, the council and communities in Mangochi District have also planted trees along river banks, installed a biogas plant at Mangochi prison, built river dikes to prevent flooding and are promoting natural regeneration of degraded landscapes. Zione’s success, and the success of the entire solar powered irrigation scheme at Issa Mponda, has convinced district authorities to scale up community-driven solutions that link environmental conservation, income generation, and food security in ways that help strengthen community resilience.  

UNDP Around the world

You are at UNDP Malawi 
Go to UNDP Global