Amid pomp, traditional dance and splendor, in rural Chisamba, central Province, the President of Zambia, Edgar Chagwa Lungu, cut an elaborate ribbon donned in Zambian colors of red, black, green and orange to lay a foundation stone to mark the construction of the Mwomboshi Dam. The dam construction is funded by the World Bank under the Irrigation Development and Support Project (ISDP) with the amount of $37 million. Not only did I attend this significant ground-breaking ceremony as a representative of the World Bank Group (WBG), but I also took the opportunity to say a Bemba agriculture idiom I have been taught by my colleagues at the office.
“Ubulimi Bwakale, Tabu talalika mwana.”
Loosely translated, this Bemba idiom simply says one cannot quieten a crying baby using old farming practices. How graphic, I thought to myself. Zambia is indeed like a crying baby in need of new technologies to improve her productivity. Not only does the country’s agriculture heavily depend on rain fed production, but it is also highly focused on one crop, maize. Irrigation will definitely change Zambia’s farming methods and move the country into a new era, and the construction of Mwomboshi Dam is just the beginning.
Once constructed, it will be the largest dam in the history of the country’s agriculture sector, with the capacity to store 65 million cubic meters of water with a wall of 1,700 meters long and 23 meters high. The dam is expected to cover about 10 kilometers when it is at full capacity, and will bring a total area of more than 10,000 hectares under irrigation. More importantly, a number of high-value legumes, grain and horticulture crops will be grown. One more important fundamental to note about this project is that, it will benefit all categories of farmers, that is, commercial, medium and small scale.
The dam is part of the overall irrigation project which includes two other irrigation schemes; the Lusitu in the Southern Province and the Musakashi in the Copperbelt Province. The irrigation scheme is part of our program in Zambia to achieve the overall World Bank vision of ending extreme poverty and promoting the sharing of economic growth.
I felt the occasion was also the right moment to encourage the government to accelerate the implementation of this project which has been painstakingly slow. In the same breath, I also appealed to the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure that the Resettlement Action Plan is well designed before actual dam construction can begin. The environmental safeguards are a very vital component of the project, because they ensure that no harm is done to the environment and the people living in the area, in the process of the dam construction.
Currently, environmental and social safeguard processes are still ongoing and yet to completed. A critical aspect to note is that WBG rules require that before funds can be disbursed, the project must meet all safeguard policies, particularly those related to the construction of the dam. As such it is very important that all players in this project move swiftly on implementing the safeguards.
In his speech, President Lungu thanked the WBG and reminded Zambians that his government remains fully committed to the development of irrigated agriculture to help eradicate poverty.
Indeed, reducing poverty is at the heart of the Momboshi irrigation scheme. Like the Bemba idiom says, Zambia now needs to look to new technologies such as irrigation farming to improve its agriculture productivity.