Malawians continue to live in poverty despite many poverty reduction policies.
The role of education in human development is well known.
With the Millennium Challenge Corporation announcement for the next Compact to Malawi, the country needs to prioritise its development efforts and investments in education. Government needs to negotiate the compact to focus on the education sector.
Malawi has a predominantly rural population. About 80 percent of the population lives in rural areas. This exposes the rural population to severe and deep-rooted deprivations. Actually, rural livelihood is synonymous with poverty. This does not mean that there is no urban poverty.
With high levels of poverty in rural areas, most people from the rural areas migrate to urban centres in search of livelihood opportunities, a situation that has led to the growth of squatter and informal settlements in cities and towns. These peri-urban locations lack most of the life giving facilities.
According to the International Money Fund report of 2017, about 69.6 percent of Malawians live below the poverty line mark of $1.25 a day.
Rural people in Malawi are caught in a deprivation trap, an interlocking cluster of disadvantages. It appears most government policies in Malawi do not favour the rural poor, although they paraded as pro-poor policies in political circles.
However, the rural poor in Malawi are caught in various forms of unfreedom. Illiteracy makes the rural poor people’s situation worse. Illiteracy increases their vulnerability to livelihood shocks as well as proneness to abuse by those in power.
As most of the rural poor are illiterate, they cannot confidently demand services from the duty bearers. Illiteracy keeps the rural poor in a tight grip of poverty. Even when development interventions are introduced in rural areas, the rate of adoption is very slow.
For instance, the lead farmer concept the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development’s Department of Extension Service introduced to close the gaps created by lack of extension officers has failed largely due to high levels of illiteracy.
While the agriculture sector has suffered greatly due to the rural smallholders’ illiteracy, the health sector is also a culprit. Actually, many Malawians die of preventable diseases largely because they lack preventive knowledge.
A WaterAid report indicates that of the 17 million Malawians, about 10 million have no access to basic sanitation and hygienic facilities. Sanitation and hygiene practices are not high cost loaded; however, levels of illiteracy propel unhygienic practices among the rural people, including open defaecation.
Whatever poverty analysis measures are used, the depth and breadth of rural poverty in Malawi remains inexorably high.
It will be harder for the country to break the country’s cycle of poverty without deliberate interventions for the development of the rural people.
Actually, Malawi may not attain Sustainable Development Goals if no deliberate efforts are made to understand and tackle how different development challenges affect the rural people, who are large in numbers.
In the highly ‘ruralised’ Malawi, meaningful development and transformation has to start from the rural poor.
Poverty is immense and acute in rural areas for owing to many factors. Rural Malawians are trapped in a web of deprivations, a multidimensional vicious cycle of poverty that manifests itself in multiple forms of ill-beings.
Most of the rural Malawians are deprived of their basic needs that can enhance their well-being.
Rural poverty being a development issue that requires policy interventions, the question remains: how can Malawi come out of the situation?
One can be quick to argue that rural development is the answer. However, it remains to be unpacked on what has been the understanding of rural development in government policies.
Delivering quality education for all is part of the mix.