Sometimes, it takes some uncompromising circumstances to realise missed opportunities.
Malawi has been a perennial preacher of the gospel of ways to increase and diversify exports, yet we keep importing nearly everything from foodstuffs to clothing despite its potential to become a net exporter of some of the things it imports.
Ironically a country that markets itself as an agriculture-based economy is mourning over the rising cost of bread following the raging war in Ukraine, the world’s largest wheat exporter.
A country with the best land is at the mercy of wheat inflows from a nation almost 7 000 kilometres away.
A country whose greatest asset is land is languishing that even sunflower, a key ingredient in cooking oil production, is hardly available on the local market.
A country with hilly lands that can feed the nation with bananas now imports the fruit from smallholder farmers in Tanzania.
Although one third of the country is covered by fresh water, fish stocks have fallen to the extent that it has become a market for yields from farmers’ ponds in Kariba, Zambia.
Malawi is an economic paradox.
While agricultural policies pile up on the shelves for mere politicking and presentations at conference held along Lake Malawi, we are unable to raise enough cattle to feed our people and give them milk.
Down in Nsanje, Thyolo and Mulanje, beef is coming from Mozambique, a neighbouring country still rising from scars of a fierce civil war that raged for decades.
It should hurt that in our superstores, even oranges, eggs and mushrooms are imported from South Africa.
We have become good at creating job opportunities in other countries through unnecessary imports at the expense of eroding employment in our land which has potential to make a difference.
What is wrong with the country awash with distinguished agriculturalists of impeccable qualification that it is unable to feed itself?
Why is it that our abundant distinguished economists are still unable to unlock economic resuscitation formulas in the agricultural sector?
Why is it that we have become mourners and seem to be resigned to that fate?
The wheat supply disruption should be a wake-up call for the country to set its priorities right. To move from the jaws of poverty and become a middle-income economy, we better start with and build on agriculture where overreliance on maize ought to stop.
Agricultural diversification is a must. It is time that our agricultural productivity was tailored for import substitution. If subsidies have to be made to enhance wheat, bananas and livestock production, so be it until we become food sufficient and net exporter of agricultural produce.
Now is the time to push the youth into farming. Let us support the dominant population into fish farming until they establish sustainable businesses to create jobs for their peers.
Let Admarc rise to its mandate and become the searcher of international markets for our products to match our expected input in agriculture.
Let us push in more resources towards banana farming, fully equipped with technology and irrigation systems.
Let us embark on a robust oranges and tangerines growing business, with value addition as the main goal. It is possible. Malawi Mangoes has put our mangoes in the supermarkets in London, why not our oranges, bananas, pond-grown chambo fish, avocado pears?
There is a huge international market for avocado pears, yet we continue to import them although our land and weather is favourable for the fruit.
As long as we keep importating even foodstuffs, our economy will remain stunted. Economies grow with exports, not imports. Time to make a difference is now.