Irrigation and Food Security in Malawi

The climatic extremes of prolonged drought and frequent flooding are major challenges Malawi. A large part of the population relies on agriculture and is prone to be directly affected by the natural environment.

One major environmental and economic issue is energy scarcity: In the absence of electricity and alternative fuel sources, trees are commonly used as biomass, causing widespread deforestation. This in turn reduces the water absorption capacity of the soil, facilitates erosion and further aggravates flooding. Flooding and droughts have been estimated to cost Malawi 1.7% of its GDP annually. [1]

Other issues are water and food security, both of which affect the livelihoods and wellbeing of the poorest populations. While 46% of Malawi’s land is arable, only 2% is irrigated. Farmers rely heavenly on rainfall and hence mostly grow crops during the rainy season. Hence, they sell their crops to the market at times when supply is abundant and prices are low.

Small scale irrigation agriculture can augment and change this production cycle and enable the production of crops during the dry season. Low-cost and durable irrigation products include pedal-powered or solar irrigation pumps that transport water from an open well, rover or lake to the field via a spray hose. They enable to spread the harvest of crops throughout the year and provide an opportunity to raise farmer’s income, as less produce is lost and prices in the dry season are higher.

Irrigation has been shown to have a positive impact on farmer’s food security by increasing both calorific intake and income, thus playing an important role in alleviating poverty. These benefits are shared by marginalised groups such as youth headed or female headed households [2]

CO2balance and its partners have been working in Malawi since 2013 and are expanding their activities in the central region to address needs on a community and district level. We are currently exploring effective options of supporting the adoption of solar-powered irrigation technologies. Get in touch, if you are interested in this area.

[1] Pauw and Thurlow 2009

[2] Nkhata 2014