aQysta started serving Malawi with its sustainable zero-fuel Barsha Pumps about a year ago. In collaboration with aQysta, an MSc. water management student of TU Delft, Ruben van Dijk, conducted extensive research on understanding the factors that influence the farmers’ decision to adopt certain irrigation technologies. This tests included the Barsha Pump.
Ruben was interviewed by aQysta’s communication officer Alisha. He stated his opinion on the irrigation status of Malawi and how zero-fuel pumps can help local farmers to meet their irrigation needs and increase their harvest substantially.
Alisha: How is the on-the-ground reality of agriculture in Malawi?
Ruben: Malawi faces high climate variability and many agricultural challenges. Its economy is predominantly dependent on agriculture with the sector generally contributing more than a third of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). With a fast-expanding population, this means that agriculture directly supports around 14 million people. Unfortunately, the production increase has failed to keep pace with population growth which has led the country to experience food shortages during times of poor rainfall.
Alisha: What is your observation on the current status of irrigation? Apart from rainfall, are there any irrigation technologies farmers have been using?
Ruben: Just like in many other regions in Southern Africa, the irrigation culture in Malawi predominantly takes place in an informal or semi-informal smallholder setting, meaning that the existing systems were developed without or with little external governmental or technical support, or have had no (governmental) support, supervision, and control for years.
Alisha: Out of curiosity, what is the gender ratio of the farmers like? Are there more female farmers or male farmers? What about the youths?
Ruben: Most of the farmers in Malawi are female. The males try to find sources of income elsewhere. Farming, however, no longer done solely for subsistence, but as a means to generate income, and when irrigation technology is purchased or introduced, males suddenly seem interested and get involved.
Alisha: Do you think, a water-powered pump like aQysta’s Barsha Pump could help improve the situation?
Ruben: The main problem that farmers in Malawi are facing is an attainable cost-effective irrigation solution. Although cheap, watering cans and treadle pumps are very tiresome technologies that realize only a small portion of irrigated land. The petrol pumps come with high running costs and maintenance and are not manageable for most of the Malawian farming population. Solar pumps are technologies which only the very wealthy can afford or is only implemented through development projects.
Alisha: Apart from inefficient irrigation, what are some of the other problems do you think smallholder farmers in Malawi face?
Ruben: Smallholder farmers face many challenges linked to the shortage of land, poor soil fertility, lack of investment capital, price fluctuations, expensive labor, lack of extension services, access to expensive agricultural inputs, poor road infrastructure, access to markets and crop diseases and so on.
Even though access to water is not the only factor challenging smallholder farmers, improving irrigation is an attractive opportunity to secure smallholder farmers’ production.
Alisha: I heard that you and your family and friends contributed a few pumps to the needy ones. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Ruben: Because I experienced with my own eyes what kind of difference a Barsha pump can make in the life of a small farmer, I figured I would really like to engage my friends and family to help me finance two Barsha pumps at a location where people don’t have the means to pay for it.
With the help of a lot of people, we have been able to help 3 farming communities. Not only with a Barsha pump, but also with a “starter pack”, consisting of pipes, water reservoirs, sprayers, water rights, seeds, and fertilizers. The whole system makes them independent of extreme drought and enables them to develop themselves and provide for their loved ones. However, a small portion (15%) of the whole package was paid by the communities themselves. This was done to create a sense of ownership and commitment in the community and this is essential for the sustainability of the entire system.
Alisha: What were farmers’ perceptions regarding a pump that is powered by water?
Ruben: Well, after educating them about the pump, the farmers think it is genius and very cost-effective.
The research was extensive but the most frequently visited places for the report were Lilongwe, Blantyre, Zomba, Mwanza, Ntchisi, Mzuzu, Rumphi, Dowa, and Dedza districts. These districts were selected because of good communication and cooperation with the Malawian Irrigation Extension officers of those respective districts.