- The lower Usuthu River in Swaziland is to become a source for a smallholder irrigation project. A government-controlled enterprise, which already implements the far larger Komati irrigation project, is set to become the executing agency of the Lower Usuthu project.
The Lower Usuthu project is placed in Central Swaziland, on the fertile lowlands uphill of the place where the small Usuthu River joins other waterways to form the Maputo River at the Mozambican border. Three dams are to secure all year water distribution for large scale irrigation schemes, aimed at smallholders that mainly produce sugar.
The Swazi government sees the Lower Usuthu project as just one of several projects to produce wealth from the country's drought stricken water resource. A much larger project at the Komati River, where it enters Swaziland from South Africa in the north, is close to its finalisation and several other water projects are planned.
Today, the African Development Bank (ADB) issued a statement, saying it had approved a loan of US$ 13.32 million to finance the first phase of the Swazi government's Lower Usuthu smallholder irrigation project. Just one month ago, the ADB granted two loans totalling US$ 24 million to finance the last stage in Swaziland's Komati River project - the Down Stream Development Project in the Komati Basin.
The Lower Usuthu project, as the larger Komati River projects, is to be executed by the government-run Swaziland Komati Projects Enterprise (SKPE). SKPE was originally founded to "effectively plan and implement substantial national water projects as tasked by the government," according to Swazi authorities.
SKPE further is obliged to "ensure that developments are economically beneficial for the Swazi Nation and of service to the people in the development areas." So far, the Swazi government has been content with the company's operations in Komati, thus showing SKPE renewed trust in the Lower Usuthu project.
According to the Swazi government, the now approved Lower Usuthu project is crucial in fighting poverty in the central region of the Kingdom. "The objective of the project is to increase household income, enhance food security and improve access to social and health infrastructure for the rural population by creating the conditions for the transformation of subsistence level smallholder farmers into small-scale commercial farmers, according to a press release.
The project is said to involve the development of the water resources of the Lower Usuthu River, the provision of irrigation infrastructure and credit funds to enable smallholder farmers to intensify and diversify their agricultural production, building on existing market linkages with the private sector.
At Lower Usuthu, the approval will lead to years of works and employment, starting with upstream works that include the construction of three dams and a distribution system. Other project phases include downstream development, environmental mitigation and project coordination and management.
Both the ADB and the Swazi government hope the project will contribute to poverty reduction in the area and in Swaziland at large. This is to happen through promoting the growth of smallholder agriculture and labour-intensive agriculture. The project is also said to "help empowering the poor to gain higher incomes and sustainable livelihoods."
The total project costs are estimated at US$ 122.25 million, of which ADB has contributed roughly one tenth. The project will be co-financed by several regional banks - African, Arab and European - UN agencies, the government of Swaziland and the beneficiaries.
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