The US $160 million Malawi Watershed Services Improvement Project, recently approved by the World Bank’s Board, builds on the existing networks and tried and tested interventions from another World Bank-supported project, the Shire River Basin Management Project, which the government of Malawi implemented from 2012 to 2019. As countries look to recovery from the coronavirus (COVID-19), these projects’ delivery models offer helpful examples of how to make use of nature to boost resilience, build robust systems and stimulate economic development for the poorest.
The Shire River Basin Management Program helped rehabilitate over 35,000 hectares of degraded watersheds, an area equivalent to 50,000 soccer fields. This was achieved through soil and water conservation measures such as rehabilitating gullies created by excess runoff, protecting stream and river banks, rehabilitating community forests and adopting new agricultural techniques. Fixed payments of $1,500 for these activities were provided to communities through a Community Environmental Conservation Fund (CECF).
All of this was delivered in close collaboration with community groups. Guidelines on watershed management were developed and adopted by the government, with more sustainable land management practices such as soil fertility improvement grounded in the wisdom and experience of community groups.
The effort also supported sustainable livelihoods, as farmers received financial incentives to improve their land management. Lonesi Petulo, 48, who lives in Tsangano – one of Malawi’s remotest and poorest areas – explains how she made a profit of $371 from an initial investment of $41: “I bought a bag of fertilizer and paid casual labourers who helped me in the field. After harvesting, I sold the potatoes and realized $412.”
Petulo says this has made a huge difference to her life: “I am now building a house. I am able to buy cement and iron sheets, which I could not afford before. I have a child in secondary school whom I am also sponsoring with the same money.”
The project encouraged enterprise development in other ways too, including helping establish more than 300 Common Interest Groups (CIGs). These CIGs received training and low-interest micro-loans totaling $855,000 as start-up capital for enterprises ranging from maize mills to goat husbandry to fish mongering. In addition, a total of 80 Farmer Field Schools were established, benefiting 2,160 farmers – three-quarters of them women. By adopting the recommended agronomic technologies, participants increased their income by more than a third.
“Unlocking the potential of communities through enterprise development can help lift them out of poverty and drive economic growth, while at the same time helping to restore degraded watersheds”, says Greg Toulmin, World Bank Country Manager for Malawi. “Strong institutions are also essential for this, particularly as landscape restoration is a long-term endeavor.”
The Shire River project funded more than 50 capacity building programs, including training courses and study tours, and supported the establishment of Malawi’s National Water Resources Authority (NWRA) as well as community-based institutions for watershed management.
These outcomes all serve as a robust foundation for the new Malawi Watershed Services Improvement project. This is the country’s biggest landscape project and will help restore 95,000 hectares of watersheds – scaling up nearly three-fold from its predecessor.