SMEC’s Environment and Water Resources Group in East Africa (Tanzania Region) is currently undertaking Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIAs) of eight proposed irrigation schemes, covering 3,939 ha of irrigation area, in five districts in Malawi. This project aims to benefit over 6,400 smallholder farmers.

Set against a current climatic backdrop of increasingly unpredictable rainfall patterns in the districts, the overarching aim of the irrigation project is to support vulnerable smallholder farmers to sustainably enhance their production levels to such a degree that they can provide for their household nutritional demands and deliver produce to viable markets. This is to be done by providing these households with a combination of (1) irrigation and soil and water conservation infrastructure; (2) promotion of good agricultural practices; and (3) linkage to improved value chains.

A critical component of the ESIA studies is the provision of downscaled climate change scenarios for all the schemes. Preliminary results of the climate change analysis covering the scheme areas, suggest that both temperature and rainfall are predicted to increase over the coming decades. This will likely lead to an increase in the occurrence of floods, prolonged dry periods and strong winds.

In light of the climate change predictions, the construction of the irrigation schemes will help ensure consistent crop production and support food security in these areas. Construction of dams and weirs at the proposed schemes will provide sufficient reserve water capacity (water security) for continual operation, and proposed bunds or canals will help divert flows to minimise flood damages.

Image: A view of one of the proposed irrigation scheme sites