Government hides the truth

If you go to one demonstration and then go home, that's something, but the people in power can live with that. What they can't live with is sustained pressure that keeps building, organisations that keep doing things, people that keep learning lessons from the last time and doing it better the next time.
Noam Chomsky

Power is a drug on which the politicians are hooked. They buy it from the voters, using the voters' own money.
Peter Newman


The Mhlako Triumvirate

Shire Valley Irrigation - Keeping them honest or the Great African Land Grab - Meeting with World Bank

Report of meeting with World Bank, African Development Bank and International Finance Corporation representatives at Malawi Sun Hotel, Blantyre, Malawi on 18th January 2011

On 18th January, 2011 I was one of a small group of persons concerned about the implications of Government’s proposals  who met with a group of World Bank experts who are in the country on a mission to assess Government’s proposals for a 42,000 hectare gravity-fed irrigation scheme taking 55 cumecs of water from the Shire River at Hamilton Falls from an average river flow of 400 cumecs. Also in the group were local World Bank representatives and regional representatives from both the African Development Bank (ADB) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the commercial investment wing of the World Bank Group (WBG). Co-ordinating the meeting was a person who consults for Illovo, Malawi’s only sugar miller with a  major presence in the proposed project area. At present they and Press Cane at Chikwawa, are the only commercial concerns to have shown any interest in being part of the project. No ESCOM representative was present. However, earlier in the day a senior engineer at ESCOM confirmed to me that the extraction of 55cumecs above their existing Kapachira generating station would have a negative impact on their ability to generate at full capacity especially because  low seasonal flows coincide with maximum demand for irrigation water. The World Bank team will have separate meetings with ESCOM.

Concerns expressed by most of those invited centred on the adverse environmental effects on Majete Wildlife Reserve and Lengwe National Park. Others, of which I was one, expressed concern over land issues, population dispersal, commercial viability under various scenarios, sensitization, training and management.

There is no point in going into all these areas in detail. It became obvious that the WBG, ADB and other players consider as inadequate the current proposal documents upon which  the Ministry has based its plans. For proper assessment prior to any agreements to fund the project they would need to commence the whole process afresh.

Concerned individuals and organizations should take comfort from the self-imposed standards used by the WBG, IFC and ADB. What this means is that all of us with such concerns should be assured that, should these organizations fund the project, the project will go ahead with all justifiable concerns already taken care of. There are certainly many apparently irresolvable issues to be overcome! My own personal opinion, for what it is worth, is that the outcome will be: ‘Not feasible’.

That would not necessarily be good news. The people of the Valley are at the mercy of erratic rainfall and experience failed crops and slow yields. As one of the participants noted:
Doing nothing may not be a wise choice.

It is obvious that the Valley has massive potential but how to develop it and who to  benefit? That is the puzzle for Government to ponder. While the project as currently envisaged may not be viable that does not mean that other ways of improving the lives of the people of the Valley should not be considered.

As for Government’s prior announcement that they were to go ahead with the construction this year – it would appear that the senior staff in the Ministry of Irrigation and Water development have ‘jumped the gun’. Why they should have done so is a matter for speculation – unless they decide to tell us more!

Those who have not read any of the documents to which I have pointed them may care to go to:

This is the WBG’s own report on the Land Rush: Rising Global Interest in farmland. Can it Yield Sustainable and Equitable benefits?  This is a report by the Oakland Institute critical of the LFC’s activities.  Can also be accessed from their website Lots of related material on this site.

World Bank report on land grabbing: beyond the smoke and mirrors. A critical assessment by the NGO GRAIN whose database was extensively used by the World Bank in its investigations. A collection of relevant documents including the basis for my initial concerns


Harold Williams
P O Box E324
Post Dot Net
Tel: +265 (0) 881038979