GBI Acting Coordinator, Henrie Njoloma, disclosed this to Members of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture and Irrigation who were on a familiarisation tour to the Chikwawa Irrigation Scheme construction site in Salima district.
Njoloma acknowledged financial challenges as the main contributing factor slowing progress of the project.
Njoloma said during the 2014/15 financial year, MK2 billion was allocated for the initiative but only K400 million was paid out.
“Currently, we owe the contractor over MK1 billion and as such the contractor has withdrawn from the site due to non-payment. We, therefore, plead with the treasury to consider increasing our funding so that we pay the contractor in order for him to return and resume work,” he said.
Meanwhile, villagers around the area have already started benefiting from the scheme using rain-fed agriculture despite the scheme not being operational.
According to Njoloma, the multiplier effect is huge as communities around the area are not experiencing hunger hence the need to make the scheme fully operational in order to maximise results.
Chikwawa GBI Smallholder Farmers Cooperative Chairperson, Yohane Msalira, said the delay in rolling out the scheme has affected the farmers as their lives could have been transformed by now if the scheme was functional.
Meanwhile 250 farmers have been allocated 0.5 hectares of land each where they are growing legumes for sale and maize for food.
According to Msalira, farmers have harvested 500 kilogrammes of soya beans from the 0.5 hectares of land which they are selling at MK215 per kilogramme.
Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture and Irrigation Vice Chairperson, Joseph Chidanti- Malunga, said his committee requested to visit the site in order to appreciate construction works and thereafter have a good argument in parliament on the needs of the initiative.
He said the committee is concerned to see that work at the scheme has stalled due to inadequate funding.
It is for this reason that the committee has pledged to lobby for more funding towards the initiative.
“The situation on the ground is not promising. As such, we will lobby for more funding towards the initiative. We will also meet the Minister of Agriculture and discuss with him on the need to use the initiative so that it is operational,” he said.
He observed that it was disheartening to see the country experiencing hunger year in year out leading to the importation of maize, yet there is the initiative in place which could go a long way in alleviating hunger.
Although the initiative is targeting other areas such as the Nthola-Ilora-Ngosi Irrigation Scheme in Karonga, concentration has been on the Chikwawa Scheme due to resource limitation.
Government formulated the GBI with the aim of using available water resources for irrigation in order to increase production, productivity, incomes and food security at both household and national levels for economic growth and development.
The initiative will reduce heavy reliance on rain-fed agriculture which is susceptible to weather shocks and natural disasters and hedge against the negative effects of climate change.
Total target area for Chikwawa Scheme is 6, 293 hectares where 530 hectares is allocated to smallholder farmers to form cooperatives. Major works for the 530 hectare land were supposed to be completed by October, 2013.
Institutional arrangement of the Chikwawa Scheme is that it will have the smallholder farmers, medium scale farmers and establishment of a sugar plant. About 250 smallholder farmers will benefit from the 530 hectare land.