‘Farmers are operating in an exploitative environment’

How does it feel to lead this national union of high credibility?

It really feels great to assume such a prominent position with such a huge responsibility. As you have rightly put it, FUM is an organisation of key strategic importance to the country, especially, considering that agriculture remains the backbone of the country’s economy.  I should, therefore, thank my fellow farmers for entrusting me with this responsibility.

What is your immediate plan for the union?

My immediate plans for the union are two-fold. Firstly, I would like to position the union to become a key strategic partner for achieving agricultural transformation agenda in the country, and secondly, I would like to bring the union closer to its owners—the farmers spread across the country. 

The union will embark on a deep-dive analysis of its capacity and resource matrix to assess its ability to effectively work with the government, the private sector and development partners in ensuring that the country attains the aspirations that are enshrined in the National Agriculture Policy and the MGDSIII.

FUM will also engage in evidence-based advocacy initiatives with the government to ensure that structural and institutional barriers that are plaguing the agricultural sector are ameliorated.

What are the key challenges facing a local farmer?

Local farmers are still operating in an environment that is not only challenging, but also exploitative. Among the many challenges, I pinpoint three major ones. Firstly, productivity levels of most of the local farmers are far below the potential due to inadequate access to improved inputs and technology, poor extension service delivery, and unavailability of long-term and competitively priced financial services. As a result, both labour and land productivity for the country are among the lowest.

The second challenge is the issue of farmers’ access to profitable output markets. Despite numerous interventions and the accompanied rhetoric, agricultural marketing systems in the country are still rudimentary and the local farmer is still struggling to access high value, profitable and structured markets.

The final teething challenge is the escalating incidences of climate change. Over the years, climatic conditions are becoming less predictable and there has been increased frequency and magnitude of floods and drought conditions.

As a union, how best can the country embrace agriculture transformation?

FUM believes that a vibrant agriculture sector is a pre-condition for the country’s food security, income generation, job creation, and overall economic development, due to accruing forward and backward linkages. However, the agriculture sector in Malawi needs to undergo a comprehensive transformation process for it to start bringing significant gains to the economy. From the FUM’s perspective, this transformation should focus on systems change.

The country should overhaul its agricultural production and marketing systems and come up with models that are sustainable, resilient and commercial oriented. We should develop a comprehensive transformation plan that will enable the country to shift from the subsistence orientation to commercial and business-driven agriculture. This will however demand adequate investment in extension services, research and technology, energy supply, irrigation and public infrastructure, market infrastructure, and enabling policy and regulatory environment, among others.

Farmers are facing a double threat from fall armyworms and climate change. How best can the country cushion the impact of such threats?

As a country we are more reactive than proactive. It is as if we have resigned to fate and we have accepted that we will be going through these calamities year-in, year-out without putting in place a comprehensive contingency, mitigation and adaptation plan. It is an undeniable fact that climate change is here to stay; hence, the country should develop a better plan that should strengthen the resilience of our agricultural systems. As a country, we are putting most of our effort on relief and recovery programmes instead of hedging and fortifying our production systems against these shocks. For instance, there is a huge information asymmetry between the farmers and the agriculture Extension Department on how to deal with fall army worms. This is because the department is engaged in less preventive interventions due to various capacity gaps that the department is facing. The only time the government intensifies on dealing with fall armyworms is when there is an outbreak. But we need to do more.

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