Scottish charity helps Malawi farmers achieve water security

A pioneering water stewardship standard adopted by a multinational drinks giant could help bring prosperity to farmers in one of the world's most impoverished nations thanks to the work of a Scottish charity.

Members of the Kaporo Smallholder Farmers Association, who grow Kilombero rice, gather round a new well supported by JTS credit. Picture: Contributed
Members of the Kaporo Smallholder Farmers Association, who grow Kilombero rice, gather round a new well supported by JTS credit. Picture: Contributed

Edinburgh-based Water Witness International is helping communities in Malawi make better use of their precious water resources with an approach already backed by Diageo, which produces some of the world’s best known drinks brands.

Securing access to water for all is one of the most pressing global challenges, with United Nations ­studies projecting that, by 2030, 3.9 billion people will be living in areas with severe water problems.

Malawi, known as the warm heart of Africa, already faces huge water challenges as a result of increasingly erratic rainfall patterns and a rapidly expanding population.

Most of its population are farmers whose income and livelihoods are dependent on the rain falling at the right time for their crops to grow.

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Water Witness International hopes to address this by expanding its water stewardship standard to the country. Along with the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), it has created a standard much similar to the Recycling Mark for paper or the Rainforest Alliance Certification for coffee.

The water standard ensures big business - and now Malawian communities - use water efficiently and without polluting supply or impacting on water sources for the surrounding community.

The charity does not build infrastructure but instead educates and trains local people to demand better services from government and benefit from the water laws that are already in place.

Doreen Chanje, director of Water Witness Malawi, said the project was already well under way. “We are working to ensure that the AWS system is accessible and beneficial for water users in Malawi,” she said. “We have already started implementing the standard with a smallholder association of 7500 rice farmers in northern Malawi, and at Malawi’s largest hospital in Blantyre, and are planning further work at large-scale sugar and nut plantations over the coming months.”

As well as supporting implementation of the standard in Malawi, the initiative will build local skills and expertise with the aim of creating a local centre of excellence and leadership in water stewardship - with the aim of ultimately helping to drive uptake of better water stewardship practices across the whole of Africa.

The Diageo-owned Serengeti brewery in Tanzania received one of the world’s first awards for responsible water use in 2016 following its work with Water Witness International.

Dr Nick Hepworth, director of Water Witness International, said: “This work is vitally important not just for the farmers involved but because through it we are building a system to guide and recognise responsible use of water for economic growth in Africa and beyond.

“It’s about breaking free from the aid agenda, and making sure that the increasingly globalised economy works for small farmers, their communities and the environment.

“It’s fantastic that the Scottish Government share our vision and have the foresight to invest in initiatives like this, but the real heroes here are the small-farmers grafting hard to literally dig themselves out of poverty.”

The initiative could lead to the first product for sale on Scotland’s shelves displaying the water stewardship standard.

In collaboration with Just Trading Scotland (JTS) the charity is supporting the Kilombero rice farmer cooperative in Karonga, northern Malawi.