Illovo Sugar pilots new tech in Malawi aimed to minimize water loss during irrigation

MALAWI – Pan-African consumer centric agri-business company, Illovo Sugar Africa, is piloting at scale an award-winning irrigation management innovation dubbed Smart Water and Irrigation Management (SWIM) Tool.

SWIM was born out of the Innovate Irrigation Challenge in 2019, conducted by Illovo’s parent company, Associated British Foods through its subsidiary AB Sugar.

The challenge invited participants to submit ideas about ways to reduce water losses from irrigation which is a key priority for the sugar miller.

Currently, around 82% of land cultivated by Illovo Sugar Africa is irrigated and thus reducing water losses is paramount.

As part of the competition, AB Sugar partnered with third party experts, WaterAid and the Centre for Industrial Sustainability at the University of Cambridge, who played an integral role in selecting the winning idea (Project SWIM) which was submitted by two civil engineers in Uganda.

Elaborating the novel innovation, Illovo Sugar highlighted that SWIM uses a network of flow and power meters with remote sensors which feedback to a cloud-based management tool.

Proof of concept for SWIM was completed at Illovo Sugar Malawi’s Nchalo Estate in 2020, producing promising results.


Early indications were that SWIM could save up to 9% of water currently lost through unidentified leaks and reduce power consumption by 11%.

The next level of piloting, taking place this year, will be undertaken across 742 hectares at the Nchalo sugar estate.

Estate managers can use the tool to detect leaks, adjust irrigation schedules and carry out water audits, all based on the real-time data it provides.


This will test SWIM at scale and assess how it might dovetail with other innovations, including drip irrigation.

Illovo Sugar Africa believes that SWIM could ultimately increase sugar cane yields by up to three tonnes per hectare using the same net water, whilst supporting its ‘more crop per drop’ mantra.

In other related news, Moroccan irrigation major Compagnie Marocaine de Goutte à Goutte et de Pompage’s (CMGP) is set to bring its third private equity investor on board as a shareholder.

This comes barely a year after the company’s merged with Comptoir Agricole du Souss (CAS), creating a new champion in Moroccan and African agriculture, known as CMGP-CAS.

The combination brough AfricInvest into the partnership alongside ADP II, through an investment targeting the expansion of efficient irrigation and agricultural water management technologies, to enable greater output and sustainability in agricultural production.

CMGP is a leading provider of irrigation solutions and water infrastructure headquartered in Morocco, with operations across Morocco and West Africa.

Meanwhile, CAS is one of the major players in the agri-supply sector in Morocco, operating in three segments: irrigation, crop protection, and seeds and fertilisers.

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