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Prospects for agricultural water management

Since 1994 the new Government has realized the importance of irrigation as a means of ensuring food security at both household and national levels. This has been demonstrated by raising the status of irrigation to Ministry level and recent Government pronouncements suggest that irrigation will be the cornerstone of the country’s agricultural development strategy. The new Ministry has put forward a 23-point irrigation development strategy plan for poverty alleviation. Its main features are to:

  • Give highest priority to the development of irrigation and water resources and strengthen the MAI with sufficient funds and staffing to undertake studies on pumping sites, boreholes and dam development;
  • Establish a National Committee on Irrigation and Drainage and promote irrigation research;
  • Recommend power lines be installed along rivers and the lake shore to encourage irrigation development and agro-industries;
  • Facilitate arrangements for the provision of input support to small farmers, including credit facilities;
  • Increase the development of self-help farmer schemes, and hand over operation and management of existing government-run schemes following completion of rehabilitation;
  • Support irrigation development in the private sector, and support smallholder farms with irrigation technology and diversified cropping systems;
  • Provide training at field and management levels and assist farmers in the organization of water user associations to ensure that future irrigation development is socially and economically viable;
  • Ensure women’s participation at all levels and ensure adequate health standards on schemes;
  • In close collaboration with other relevant Ministries and organizations, ensure the enforcement of legislation on water conservation and catchment protection;
  • Strengthen monitoring activities to ensure projects are executed as planned.

The MAI (1999) had identified unreliable water supplies as a main restriction to developing irrigation and presented the following strategies to overcome the problem:

  • More small earth-dams will be constructed over rivers to create reservoirs for use in irrigation farming. The dams will not only guarantee availability of water for crops during the dry season and drought periods, but they will also control floods by retaining excess runoff during heavy storms thereby protecting crops from flood damage.
  • Catchment areas of rivers supplying water to irrigation schemes and fragile areas such as riverbanks and wetlands will be protected. This is necessary because, due to the encroachment upon catchment areas by human activities, such as agricultural production and settlements, most of the land has been devoid of vegetation cover thus preventing adequate amounts of rainwater from infiltrating into the ground to recharge aquifers and causing soil erosion leading to serious siltation problems and choked canals.
  • Environmental impact assessments will be conducted on all irrigation schemes of more than 10 ha.
  • Alternative sources of water supply will be exploited. In this respect, groundwater resources should be developed for irrigation. This also applies to water from Lake Malawi, which will be tapped using canals or pumps to irrigate areas along the lakeshore. Areas between Liwonde and Mangochi and between Karonga Boma and Songwe would benefit from such irrigation projects.
  • Imported "orphan" pumps, i.e. pumps for which spare parts are not locally available and which farmers cannot repair, will not be used for irrigation.

In 2002/03, the MAI revised its irrigation development programme for the next five years. This development programme prioritizes irrigation development aimed at increasing agricultural productivity and at the same time at promoting the use of appropriate and simple irrigation technologies. The programme focuses largely on the use of treadle pump technology by smallholder farmers, with the objective of considerably increasing the coverage of irrigation development in the country. It is planned that an estimated 300 000 treadle pumps will be installed for smallholder farmers until 2008, and that an estimated 495 km of canals will be built over the same period. Other technologies, such as river impoundments and the use of small motorized pumps, will be exploited further. It is planned that by the end of 2008 at least 100 800 ha of irrigation development will be added to the current status. To achieve this development goal, a total of almost US$78 million would be required to cover the procurement of 300 000 treadle pumps, the construction of 495 km canals, the procurement of 2 000 small motorized pumps and other equipment (bulldozers, excavators) and the provision of extension services.

The country is blessed with large water bodies, rivers, lakes and dambo wetlands, and there is large scope for sustainable production expansion under irrigation. There is considerable scope for expanding rice production in Malawi under irrigation, but there is also a high potential for the production of high value crops, other than rice, for the export and municipal markets under irrigated agriculture.


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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