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DEVELOPMENT: Swazi Village Tastes Sweet Success with Sugarcane

Mantoe Phakathi

MBABANE, Apr 18 2011 (IPS) - The previously impoverished community of Malibeni, previously ravaged by drought, is bustling with farmers who have transformed the area into a bread basket. Lush green fields of sugarcane and vegetables have replaced an expanse of dry shrubs near this community in northeastern Swaziland.

The project has two main components, one improving water and sanitation for homesteads in the area and the other irrigating the sugar cane fields of a farmers’ association.

“This year we’ll finish the debt with the bank which we used as capital for the project,” says James Mahlalela of the Intamakuphila Farmers Association. “Next year we’ll start getting dividends.”

Over the past eight years the Swaziland Water and Agricultural Development Enterprises (SWADE) have transformed Malibeni and surrounding areas in line with its mandate to alleviate poverty.

Supporting commercial agriculture

The parastatal SWADE completed the Maguga Dam in September 2001, and adopted a participatory approach to setting up irrigation infrastructure, involving users, planners and policy makers at all levels to design agriculture projects for Malibeni.

The reservoir irrigates 7,400 hectares of farms in Swaziland – roughly a quarter of this area is vegetable gardens, with the rest devoted to sugarcane.

Nine communities directly benefit from this dam. According to Gugulethu Hlophe, SWADE strategic communications manager, the communities had to agree to pool together their land resources to establish commercial farms.

“At first, the community was rather sceptical because they thought we wanted to grab their land,” said Hlophe. “But people eventually saw the benefits of forming associations and cultivating sugarcane.”

SWADE ensured that the different associations were able to access loans from banks while the Royal Swaziland Sugar Corporation expanded its mill to process 80,000 tonnes of sugarcane every year.

“Members will reap the benefits of sugarcane after finishing [paying off] their debt at the financial institutions,” said Hlophe.

Mahlalela said his association, Intamakuphila, which has a 280 hectare farm, will pay off its debt of 286 000 dollars this year. In addition to the association’s 162 members who have an ownership stake, all the salaried field workers from the community, strengthening income beyond the shareholders.

“As of next year, we’ll receive dividends calculated according to the land each one of us contributed to this association,” said Mahlalela. “Each member represents a household in this area.”

Mahlalela, like most of his neighbours, is also maintaining a garden where he is cultivating tomatoes, cabbages and beans and sells his produce nationwide and beyond.

He also has an orchard which he irrigates through the same water system as the garden. “These are the short-term benefits of the KDDP project,” said Hlophe.

One dam, multiple purposes

Parallel to setting up sugarcane and vegetable growing operations, the Malibeni community has been able to put water and sanitation infrastructure into place.

Hlophe explains that SWADE pursues holistic approach to community development and regards access to water and sanitation is a basic requirement for every household in its areas of operation.

Mancane Dlamini, a mother of two, says she remembers only too well where the community used to fetch water, walking as much as two kilometres to the river. Seven of her neighbours’ children had drowned in the Komati River many years ago.

“There is a very steep slope at the river and the children would slip and fall back into the river,” she says.

Each household now has water piped directly to its compound. SWADE provided the community with the necessary material and contractors to install a slow sand filter system.

Water from the Maguga Dam is stored in a smaller reservoir near the community – this reservoir also stabilises the pressure from the water pumped from the dam so that the sugarcane irrigation infrastructure is not damaged.

“Water from the smaller reservoir is drawn and supplied to a 5000-litre tank at each individual homestead,” said Hlophe. “The water is purified in a filter bed in a 1,000-litre tank before the clean water goes to another tank of the same size.”

The Mahlalela household uses this water for their domestic needs, including a flush toilet which is attached to the water structure.

“For the past eight years we’ve been using this system without any problem,” said Mahlalela. 
He said, for now, the community pays nothing for water although SWADE has warned that in the future they might have to make a small contribution towards its maintenance.

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