Restoring water and hope in southern Zambia
“The local dam, which has been our only water source, has almost dried up. Our gardens and crops are dying. But what hurts and worries us most is that our income has dried up too.”
So begins the story of Herbert Nkandu, a farmer in the remote village of Chipapa in southern Zambia. Herbert is the Chairperson of the Chipapa Gardening Group and a father of nine children. Like many others in his community, Herbert has faced hardship following severe and recurrent drought caused by El Niño.
Since 2014, the effects of El Niño in the southern African region have rendered more than 40 million people vulnerable to crop loss. Many have been unable to find enough food for their families. The current El Niño weather pattern is the strongest that the region has experienced in 35 years – causing severe food and water shortages for rural and urban communities.
“[The drought] has come on so strong that life has become unbearable” says Herbert. “We walk with debts following us because we cannot afford school fees or to feed our families”.
As a father of nine children, Herbert’s concern for his family’s future weighs heavily upon his shoulders. Speaking of his 14-year-old daughter, Herbert says, “I was worried that Beatrice’s education would come to an end. I had no other means of paying for her education, nor that of her siblings, who I hoped would attend university.”
The greatest impact of El Niño has been felt by rural farmers like Herbert, who no longer have access to water from streams, dams and wells – not only for watering their crops, but also to provide drinking water for their families.
“Each day I wonder how tomorrow will be for my family” says Herbert. “Farming has been our main source of income but now it is no more…the rains are not enough.” In the absence of sufficient rainfall, many rural farmers are turning to underground water supplies to support their crops and families.
However, the situation for farmers in the Chipapa community is beginning to change. A 46,000 litre Aquamate water tank has recently been installed on local farmland and is being used to store fresh water from an underground borehole.
With the support of World Vision, the tank has been installed with a solar-powered mechanized pump. The pump draws water from the underground borehole to be stored in the tank. Work is currently underway to lay a network of pipes that will connect the tank to surrounding farmland and facilitate a new drip irrigation system. For farmers like Herbert, the Aquamate water tank has restored hope to their families and communities.
“It is like a dream come true,” says Herbert, smiling. “For many years we longed for such a resource. We saw our dam dry up, day by day. We did not know what would become of us when the dam dried up completely.”
“The Aquamate tank has come at the right time, when we need it most. I had lost hope but I know this tank will do wonders for us…it will restore our farming and boost our productivity. I will be able to sell produce to earn money and support my family.”
“This water tank means everything to us,” Stainley Malambo a father of 12 children in Chipapa says. “You have saved our children’s future.”
Herbert explains that the new drip irrigation system will help farmers to conserve water and improve crop yields in the long-term. In the past, the Chipapa community relied upon furrow irrigation. This led to seepage and leaching, resulting in a loss of water and nutrients. “As a result of furrow irrigation, our yields were poor quality… our produce was unmarketable or sold at a very cheap price,” says Herbert.
Herbert explains that for any family to be food secure in rural Zambia, they need a reliable source of income and food throughout the year. “Come 2018, the water tank will change everything in our lives,” he says. “The tank and water has given us new hope.”
The farmers of Chipapa predict that with drip irrigation, their total income will double from US$3,000 to US$6,000 each quarter over the coming years. The farmers will have a reliable water supply and will be able to plant crops with greater market value. Drip irrigation will prevent leaching of nutrients and will thus boost the quality of crop yields.
“In the past, we would ration water and plant crops that could survive without water for 4 or 5 days,” says Herbert. With the installation of the Aquamate tank, farmers like Herbert will be able to diversify their crops and sustainably boost their family’s income.
A total of 120 farmers have land on the 7.5 hectares of Chipapan farmland which will benefit from the Aquamate water tank.
80 of these farming households are headed by women, and the remaining 40 by men.
Approximately 750 children who live in farming households will benefit from reliable access to fresh water and sustainable income-generation in their families.
The Chipapan farmers recognise the opportunity for the Aquamate water tank to foster flow-on benefits for the wider community. “With this tank, we hope to expand the farmland and support other families to fight hunger and poverty in our community.” As head of the Chipapa Gardening Group, Herbert is leading efforts to access microfinance loans and empower women with farmland to support their families.
World Vision Chipapa Program Manager, Barbara Mashinkila, says the donation of water tanks has brought hope to farmers and has changed the lives of many in the community. “Empowering local farmers gives [everyone] so much hope. We have seen them struggle with little water until [the dam] dried up. The Aquamate tank has long-term, transformational power – not only for a few individuals, but many families.”
“The water from the tank will contribute towards improving families’ food security and livelihoods, and will help families to provide for their children’s education, health and nutrition,” says Barbara. She adds that the community has the spirit and determination to ensure the water tanks will support sustainable agriculture and livelihoods for years to come.
On behalf of his community, Herbert expresses his gratitude to World Vision Australia and Aquamate.
“The Aquamate tank has changed the lives of our families and the entire community. We promise that we will use the tank to our best ability. Come next year, our families will no longer be the same.”