By John Ekongo
With a population of 13 million and blessed with political stability and the largest part of the fresh-water resource Lake Malawi (the largest part of the lake is in Malawi) and an above-average rainfall coupled with hardworking people, Malawi has transformed itself from a basket case to a breadbasket.
Malawi has consistently turned over record crop harvests after it convinced its communal farmers that food production and sustainability are not a feat too difficult to achieve.
African countries, especially Namibia, can draw lessons from Malawi, which despite being one of the poorest countries on the continent is amongst the rare shining examples that do not rely on costly food imports to feed its population and in actual fact exports food.
Malawi, a former British colony and independent since 1964, prides itself as the “Warm Heart of Africa”. It has recorded phenomenal growth in food production surpluses since 2004, at a time when many other African countries are struggling given the volatile global economy that is being compounded by high food prices and escalating fuel.
Thanks largely to an ambitious agricultural programme, introduced by President Bingu Wa Mutharika known as Target Inputs Programme (TIP), Malawi produces enough food.
This programme began in 2000.
In terms of the programme, farmers were given a 50 kg package containing 10 kg urea, 10 kg fertilizers, maize seed and beans.
In 2004, the programme was reviewed and Government introduced a fertilizer subsidy programme (FSP).
In this initiative, a farmer buys a 50 kg bag of fertilizer at 910 Malawi
Kwacha equivalent to $6.5 and 3,500 Malawi Kwacha equivalent to N$175, with the aim to produce food for his/her household consumption.
Any surplus a farmer can sell to the State for export duties while at the same time farmers are encouraged to produce more and have readily available cash for other supplements.
Traditionally, Malawi has been self-sufficient in its staple food maize and during the 1980s exported substantial quantities to its drought-stricken neighbours.
Agriculture represents 38.6% of the GDP and counts for over 80% of the labour force, and represents about 80% of all exports.
Nearly 90% of the population engages in subsistence farming.
Smallholder farmers produce a variety of crops, including maize (corn), beans, rice cassava, tobacco groundnuts (peanuts) and coffee.
The agricultural sector contributes about 63.7% of total income for the rural population, 65% of the manufacturing sector’s raw materials, and approximately 87% of total employment.
Financial wealth is generally concentrated in the hands of a small elite.
Malawi’s manufacturing industries are situated around the city of Blantyre
Malawi’s economic reliance on the export of agricultural commodities renders it particularly vulnerable to external shocks such as declining terms of trade and drought. High transport costs, which can comprise over 30% of its total import bill, constitute a serious impediment to economic development and trade.
“But if we don’t take bold steps to accelerate our own agenda, Africa will continue to linger at the bottom of prosperity,” said Ken Lipenga, Minister of Economic Planning and Development during an interview with New Era.
Lipenga highlighted that despite the fact that Africa has a workforce of 720 million workers, 30 million square kilometres of arable land, large reservoirs of fresh water resources, over 2 000 species of freshwater fish, a favourable tropical climate and abundant mineral and natural deposits, an estimated 300 million Africans live below the poverty line and a further 200 million are chronically hungry. And at any given season, 30 million Africans need food assistance from outside the continent
However, recent government initiatives targeting improvements have caught the eye of African role players in the development of Africa.
A record maize harvest across the country during the 2007 rainy season resulted in an estimated surplus of over one million tons of maize, the staple food crop for the majority of Malawians.
The increase in production is mainly attributed to favourable weather conditions and greater uptake of agricultural inputs such as fertilizer and hybrid seeds under the FSB.
The Malawian Government recently sold 400 000 tons of maize to Zimbabwe to help fill that country’s cereal gap.
The World Food Programme also procured large amounts of food within Malawi for use in its operations in the country and around southern Africa.
By the end of October 2007, WFP had procured 88,000 tons of different commodities valued at US$19 million in Malawi.
Food commodities procured from the country include maize, corn soy blend, pulses and maize meal.
But the success of Malawi’s food production stemmed from one thing, revealed Ben Botolo from the Economic and Planning Ministry, in that it’s rooted in ownership and a yearning for change: “We must take ownership of us – we can’t expect to be fed all the time.”