As the debate on the effectiveness of aid rages on, development practitioners and economists have differed on its impact in African countries including Malawi.
While Catholic University head of economics department Gilbert Kachamba says aid has not entirely helped Malawi, former Irish Ambassador Aine Hearns argues their aid to Malawi has been effective and there are positive spin-offs.
In a recent interview, Hearns said her country’s approach to aid in Malawi is based on “doing more with less” and changing people’s mindset.
She said for the past 10 years, Ireland’s focus has been to educate Malawians on different aspect of life from agriculture, nutrition to governance. Another importance aspect, she said, is enhancing crop diversification.
Said Hearns: “I come from Ireland, and in Ireland, we heavily depend on the Irish potatoes for centuries. There was a time when you go to the wedding and there was no Irish potatoes and people would say the wedding was not good.
“So, Irish people would empathise with Malawians in relation to nsima, but if nsima is not working then what do we do?
“Malawi is quite a fertile country and we have to look at all the crops. I know that in the Southern Region, cassava is a crop that is grown and more people depend on it. We have to educate the people that there is more to food than maize. My view is that we target the young generation in crop diversification because they are future farmers.”
Talking of the aid approach, Hearns said their programmes in Malawi have become stronger for the past decade.
Despite economic challenges in Ireland, their commitment was demonstrated by the increase in budget aid to Malawi by 40 percent since 2008.
In the next four years up to 2020, Irish Government plans to invest 70.9 million euros (K53.8 billion) in Malawi to achieve the goals of the country’s development strategy.
The money is on top of the five million euros (K4.2 billion) each year which the Irish Government also allocates to non-governmental organisations in Malawi.
Ireland’s strategy recognises the many complex factors necessary for development with a particular focus on breaking the cycle of annual humanitarian responses by adopting a longer term resilience building approach, said Hearns.
The goal of the Ireland strategy is to increase the resilience of poor households to economic, social and environmental shocks such as climate change.
Hearns said improved rainfall and continued reforms to the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp), including the much greater involvement of the private sector, will contribute to a significant increase in agricultural output in the years to come.
She said Ireland has weathered the worst of the economic storm and its economy is now in good shape and growing strong with its gross domestic product (GDP) forecast to ease to 3.5 percent in 2017 from over four percent last year.
Kachamba has a different view on aid effectiveness saying it has not borne the desired fruits in the past.
“Real aid in Malawi has not been effective so far. The impact of international aid to local Malawians has been little,” he said.
Kachamba observed that the approach of giving aid directly to local people would be good as the impact will be greater than if it is channelled through other means.
“This, coupled with needs assessment of the needy, can lead to better and quicker improvement in people’s livelihood. This approach is easy to monitor the effectiveness of aid,” he said.
In a joint paper titled The Foreign Aid Effectiveness Debate: Evidence from Malawi, Rajlakshmi De and Charles Becker said despite the resources funding corruption in some instances, evidence is there to suggest a positive a relationship between aid and living standards.
“In particular, health aid reduces disease severity, water aid reduces illnesses and education aid increases school exposure. These rather obvious seeming statements reveal one of the important aspects of the methodology used,” they write.