The 12-gate water flow control intake at Kapichira Falls Dam under construction
* The first phase that include 12-gate intake from the Kapichira Falls Dam
* The massive project construction is set to be the biggest irrigation canal in Southern Africa
*It is a brainchild of Sir Geoffrey Colby, former Governor of colonial protectorate of Nyasaland between 1948 and 1956
* “We are, therefore, pleased that the Malawi government has over the years been considering to revive it”
* Contractor; consultants; supervision team deny concealing cracks that develop at the inlet construction of the canal
By Duncan Mlanjira
After his visit to the site of the Shire Valley Transformation Programme in Chikwawa on Friday, task team leader, Joop Stoutjesdijk — who is World Bank’s Lead Irrigation Engineer — expressed satisfaction with the construction progress which is at 55% against the planned 65%.
The Phase 1 of the massive project construction, which is set to be the biggest irrigation canal in southern Africa, is being financed by the World Bank, African Development Bank (ADB), Global Environment Facility, OPEC Fund for International Development and the Malawi Government.
Stoutjesdijk was in the Company of two representatives from the ADB — Country Manager Mcmillan Anyanwu and Principal Rural Infrastructure Engineer Dr. Wael Soliman as they appraised progress of the work being done by Portuguese contractor, Conduril Construction Company on the 6km Phase 1 stretch.
The next stretch of the first phase was awarded to Sinohydro Corporation from the 6km of the canal that will proceed for the next 44km of canal, which will mainly be co-financed by World Bank and African Development Bank.
Thus the two financiers site visit, accompanied by supervising consultant, Charles Shem Joya — who is the Chief Surveyor — to physically appraise the progress of the first phase that include 12-gate intake from the Kapichira Falls Dam that supplies water for Egenco’s hydro electric power plant as well as a 750m siphon tunnel.
Along the construction route, the environment of the Majete Game Reserve on the stretch of the intake; the siphon and the whole 117km canal route from Kapichira Falls to Bangula shall be restored.
The canal shall irrigate 43,700 hectares of land in the Valley for over 223,000 people (as according to 2016 census) including areas under Illovo Sugar, Phata, Kasinthula and all Cooperatives with irrigable areas especially on the eastern side of the canal.
Stoutjesdijk said it was pleasing that good progress is being covered though there are some challenges being faced that obviously arise in any construction — such as encountering deep rocks through the siphon stretch that took time to be excavated.
He took cognizance that this irrigation project is a brainchild of Sir Geoffrey Francis Taylor Colby, KCMG — who was the Governor of the colonial protectorate of Nyasaland between 1948 and 1956.
“This is a project that was thought out some 80 years by Sir Colby in the 1940s but couldn’t materialize due to many challenges,” Stoutjesdijk said. “We are, therefore, pleased that the Malawi government has over the years been considering to revive it.
“We as the World Bank are happy with our involvement together with the Malawi Government, the African Development Bank and other development partners in this journey of realizing the concept that Sir. Colby thought of building.”
The delegation was taken through that Conduril’s phase 1 that is targeted by December 31, 2023 — which includes construction of the intake and the first 6Km of main canal to be completed by May 2023.
Sinohydro is set to continue into the MC1 & MC2 of the first phase which is construction of 44km of of the canal to be completed by December 2023 while construction of secondary canals (MC3) — to feed the farmlands shall be completed by December 2023.
According to Director of Irrigation Services in the Ministry of Agriculture, Engineer Geoffrey Mamba, the MC3 secondary canals are currently being designed and procurement will be through international bidding.
The design of Phase 2 will include a 67km long end of the canal from Lengwe to Bangula which will commence in November and be completed in the year 2022 while the actual construction will commence after 31st December, 2023.
Meanwhile, Engineer Mamba dispelled reports that the contractor conceals cracks that develop at the intake, saying “all precautionary measures have been taken already to ensure high-quality product of concrete”.
“The supervision, which is being undertaken is of the highest international standards. Occasional cracks in construction works are not a strange phenomenon. Cracks may result from insufficient curing and mix design coupled with intense high temperatures experienced in the Valley.
“However, under these works, all these are under control and are being inspected and supervised jointly by the contractor, consultants and government engineers. Any occurrence of cracks is rectified through demolition and re-construction of the affected structural member.”
He added that the project has a management team that include four engineers who have been assigned by the Ministry to ensure that quality of works is maintained through constant supervision of the consultant as well as the contractor.
“Two of the engineers are based right at the Contractors campsite. Weekly/monthly inspections are done by the Ministry and that the Ministry and other Departments also visit the site as and when required.
The Ministry signed a quality assurance management plan with the Conduril and the consultants and each step of construction is checked following the plan.
“Any work that does not meet the standards is rejected outright,” continued Mamba. “Any defects are immediately rectified. There is a laboratory which is used for testing materials on site.
“The supervision team comprises Koreans, from Korea Rural Community Corporation who are fully responsible for quality assurance and cannot be influenced by anyone as it is laid out in the contract as part of safeguards.
“All parties are also aware that both the World Bank and African Development Bank are zero tolerant to corruption.”
On the preference of Conduril to be supplied of quarry by Terrastone at Njuli Mine in Blantyre, which is over 80kms away from site, Mamba said the Contractor is free to source materials from anywhere as long as they meet the standard and quality specified by the engineer.
“What the Government pays for is the concrete as priced in the Bill of Quantities (BoQ). Efforts were made by Condurill to open a quarry along the Chikwawa East Bank but the quality of the aggregate was not approved by the engineer — hence resorted to source it from Blantyre. This is at their own cost.”
He also said locals in Chikwawa cannot satisfy the demand of this massive project since “the current work requires large volumes and high-quality concrete for structural as well as canal lining”.
“Different structures require different sizes and grades of aggregate. This can only be achieved if crushed by machines. The local community mostly go for slightly softer rock like limestone because it is easier to mine.
“The quantities produced by the local communities would not meet the demands of the job of this nature.”
Along the site visit, the delegation were appraised of outstanding works that include construction of escape routes for animals in case they fall into the canal, finishes to access roads, backfilling of drainage structures and construction of an approach road to the bridge.
Also also of interest is that the Ministry has attached a number of engineering interns for capacity building.
The Shire Valley Transformation Program was launched in March 2020 by former President Peter Mutharika, whose objective is for Malawi to increase agricultural productivity and commercialization for targeted households along the Shire Valley and to improve the sustainable management and utilization of natural resources.
The project aims to provide access to reliable gravity-fed irrigation and drainage services, secure land tenure for smallholder farmers and strengthen management of wetlands and protected areas in the Shire Valley.
On his site visit in December 2020, Vice-President Saulos Chilima, who is also Minister responsible for Economic Planning and Development, said the irrigation project was in line with MW2063 development agenda.
“One of the pillars in the 2063 agenda talks about agriculture commercialization, and the other one talks about industry,” he told the media that accompanied him. “This project intends to graduate smallholder farmers into commercial farmers, which is a plus, not just for the Lower Shire but for the country as a whole.”
He also promised to make more visits to the site, saying “the project involves a lot of work and it must be done properly so that we don’t have issues along the way.”
The Parliamentary Committee on Government Assurances and Public Sector Reforms also made a monitoring visit where its chairperson, MP Noel Lipipa, lauded the programme for the progress made in construction work despite the limitations brought by the CoVID-19 pandemic.
He was reported to have assured the public that the Parliamentary Committee will lobby Parliament to continue supporting the programme with resources for it to be viable and to stay on track so that by 2024 people will have started utilizing water from the canal.