By Trouble Ziba, MANA
Out of 6,000 hectares irrigatable land that is available in Balaka District, farmers only utilize about 900 hectares, owing to inadequate financial and material resources involved in irrigation farming.
This is a setback to efforts by government and other players in the agriculture sector that have been advocating for farmers countrywide to engage in irrigation farming due to the country’s unreliability of rainfall as experienced in recent years.
Balaka District’s Chief Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Officer, Denis Zingeni said due to unreliability of rains which has not spared his district, farmers need to engage in winter cropping as well as animal farming such as goats and chickens.
Zingeni said blessed with the Shire River and assisted by well wishers like Sustainable Agriculture Production Program (SAPP), there is steady increase of land under irrigation farming in the district.
“Not long ago, we were irrigating 400 hectares of the potential land for irrigation in the district, now we are at 600 hectares of land which is underirrigation,” said Zingeni.
Farmers under Chisoni Irrigation Scheme in Traditional Authority Nkaya under Utale Extension Planning area (EPA) are cultivating different crops under winter cropping on a 14.6-hectare land courtesy of K4.5 million they got from SAPP through a Village Challenge Fund (VCF) window.
With the fund which they received in 2019, the farmers bought motorised water pumps, fertilizer, sprayers, vegetable chemicals and seed among other materials.
Another chunk of the money was used to train members of the irrigation scheme in various farming methods including seed multiplication, monitoring, record keeping and conservation agriculture technologies among others.
“From the K2.8 million we invested, we have managed to harvest over K8 million this year. If we subtract our expenditure, we see that we have made K5.9 million profit,” said the irrigation scheme’s chairperson, William Laison.
Some of the crops grown at the scheme include maize, beans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and egg plants among others.
According Laison, the farmers are planning to increase hectarage of land with the bumper harvest they have realised this year.
This comes as good news for the district agriculture authorities like Zingeni, who appealed to well-wishers to assist more farmers in the district to engage in winter cropping so that land under irrigation farming increases.
Balaka was declared a disaster area in 2016 after fall army worms destroyed about 40, 000 hectares of maize. Farmers have since been trained in ways of identifying the pest early.
The district is also one of those usually affected with droughts frequently, hence the need for the farmers in the district to venture in winter cropping.