A coffee grower, a dam and a partnership for water security in northern Zambia

This June, CRIDF met with the global specialty coffee producer Olam to discuss future pro-poor possibilities for a dam that Olam is planning to build on the Chambeshi River in the Northern region of Zambia. Olam is the third largest agri-business in the world operating in 66 countries, including five Southern African Development Community countries.

The Chambeshi is a headwater of the Congo River, and its catchment receives the highest rate of rainfall in Zambia. Water storage is lacking, however, and deforestation has reduced the ability of the landscape to hold and release water slowly. Communities in the region lack consistent access to their water resources, meaning that despite relatively high rainfall, they are vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Olam, whose coffee business represents the largest private employer in the Northern region of Zambia, also experienced this vulnerability last year. Amid shortages of irrigation water, they had to truck water in and hand water their coffee, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep the crop alive. After this experience they decided to build a dam at Kateshi at one of their coffee estates, providing the water storage that was lacking. This small dam will cover an area of open grassland where there are no environmental issues and it will cause no community displacement.

As water is a public good, however, Olam wish to maximise the benefits of this infrastructure. Thus, they have asked CRIDF to collaborate with Olam and the Chambeshi Water Security Partnership that also includes the Chambeshi Water and Sewerage Company, municipal and district authorities and NGOs. By the time the dam is operational, Catchment Councils and Water User Associations will also be established to guide the use of the stored water.

CRIDF encourages such a partnership approach and looks forward to cooperating on enhancing the shared socio-economic benefits of the project. CRIDFs role will be to support Olam in mobilising finance and to provide technical assistance. Along with supplying water and sanitation to surrounding communities, the dam has the potential to enable new local activities such as fish farming, which Olam is interested in supporting. Most importantly, the infrastructure will be a starting point for genuine, coordinated catchment governance on the Chambeshi.