Published on Nasikiliza

In Mozambique, World Bank helps rehabilitate a vital infrastructure, ensuring all-season irrigation and transport

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Farmers harvest tomatoes which are placed in boxes for sale at markets further away. Photo Gustavo Mahoque/World Bank

The first time I visited Chokwe district in the province of Gaza, which is located some 230 km from the capital city of Maputo, tales of agriculture riches popped into my head. For years, the official narrative has labelled Chokwe district the nation’s food basket. “Well, at least for the southern part of the country,” I thought out loud, somewhat unconvinced while driving there. That was before I laid eyes on the gigantic, and arguably the largest, gravity-irrigated system ever built in the country, covering 37,000 hectares of fertile land downstream the majestic Limpopo River. There, I witnessed the harvesting of tomatoes, and other vegetables, and the overall upbeat mood among farmers, traders, and residents of the rich valley.

The rehabilitated irrigation system is part of a multifunctional infrastructure that comprises a railway, a road, and a dam, all in one, known as Macarretane Dam. Its operations have been severely undermined by cumulative malfunctions over the past 12 years, mostly caused by the successive and devastating floods of the years 2000 and 2013. The latter resulted in the loss of 113 lives and over 170,000 people displaced, as well as the destruction of numerous buildings, including schools, hospitals, and private property, making this episode the worst disaster to hit Mozambique in the recent past.
The region also suffers from recurrent and intense droughts, the latest of which was registered in 2015 and 2016 and prompted by one of the strongest El Niño occurrences on record. In southern and other parts of Mozambique, the phenomenon wiped out crops and decimated livestock, leaving entire communities literally struck by famine, resorting to plant roots to survive.
The World Bank’s investments in a total of US$32 million were used mainly to rebuild the dam’s dykes and barriers, thus protecting the dam’s foundations, as well as to rehabilitate its hydro-mechanical system that controls the flow of water to the valley downstream.
Edgar Chongo, the Limpopo Basin Director responsible for the management of the dam, explained that the floods had led to the erosion of the banks and cracking of sections of the dam downstream, threatening the stability of the dam's foundations, which could potentially lead to its collapse. “An intervention like this was urgently needed,” he noted. “The risk of inaction could be the collapse of the infrastructure altogether over time, and with it a destruction of an entire chain of production and livelihoods established in this valley for over 60 years.”

The multipurpose infrastructure built in 1955 has undergone rehabilitation works thanks to World Bank financing to ensure all-season low-cost irrigation and transport. Photo Gustavo Mahoque/World Bank

Let alone the deterioration of the infrastructure that could potentially lead to the interruption in road and rail traffic: the railway system on top of the dam is of regional importance, as it is a vital element in the Limpopo Corridor System, which provides access to Maputo harbor for landlocked countries, such as Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Zambia.
Elisa Moiane, a 41-year-old widow, who traded her job as an activist with an international NGO to embrace farming, spoke about the impact of the dam’s repair on her life. Chókwe is for us synonymous with production,” she said. “Chókwe is tomato and vegetables, and tomato is life, and this means financial stability for my family, she said, while putting her produce in boxes for subsequent transportation to markets further away. 
Thanks to the investment, the infrastructure’s irrigation system now covers about 37,000 hectares of arable land downstream, thus helping to restore the narrative of Chokwe as the country’s supplier of food staples. The intervention allowed at least 50,000 people among farmers and traders to resume their activities in full, which, per official reports, have contributed to the price stability of rice and vegetables in the southern region of the country.
I also learned that while everyone hailed the virtues of the dam for irrigation, its contribution to flood management is limited, due to the rather flat landscape upstream.
However, its importance in drought management is significant. By ensuring gravity-fed, low-cost, all-season irrigation to the valley, this dam plays a crucial role in food production throughout the year, improving food security and nutrition. Besides, the dam operates in conjunction with another one located upstream, the Massingir dam,  which serves to raise the water level of the Limpopo River to provide water into Chókwe, thus contributing in some ways to minimize flood occurrences.



Gustavo Mahoque

Communications consultant

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