In 2021, the National Planning Commission (NPC) reported that the journey towards inclusive wealth creation and self-reliance as well as mindset change for hard work, persistence, patriotism and self-belief has begun for Malawi.
The statement inspires hope in citizens affected by poverty and deprived of decent socio-economic opportunities.
Inclusiveness entails that opportunities available are open to all by design so as to uplift many without segregation. It requires the participation of all from beginning to end without qualification or exclusions.
One key pillar of the Malawi 2063 long-term economic plan, especially in the first decade (2021 to 2030), is agricultural productivity and commercialisation. This makes economic sense as Malawi is traditionally an agricultural economy that hinges on foreign earnings from tobacco, tea and sugar. However, apart from tea and sugar that are grown by well-structured companies for commercial farming, many are individual farmers in rural areas where 84 percent of the country’s population lives.
The rural majority largely relies on subsistence farming. They grow a diversity of crops such as maize, soya beans, groundnuts, regular beans, pigeon peas, cotton, sunflower, rice and vegetables.
Subsistence farming means growing crops as a tradition without a serious commercial intent and use of modern techniques and technologies to maximise yields and revenue.
Strangely, hand-to-mouth farming has been the bedrock of many big processing companies prospering at the expense of the poor farmers.
In his DD Phiri Column, Desmond Dudwa Phiri once declared that people who become too rich in a poor country do that by sheer theft or some dishonesty.
If transformation remains a strategic goal in NPC’s push for Malawi to graduate into a middle income economy by 2030 under the principles of inclusivity and commercialisation then we must interrogate ourselves why real growers remain poor after growing crops like soya that in 2021-2022 farming season turned over K80 billion and made middlemen and exporters multimillionaires.
Rural farmers should be organised in a commercial model to maximise their return and engage directly with real buyers under tenets of fair trade.
The NPC must have identifiable projects across the country to measure tangible progress.
The commission has the mandate to consider resource potential and comparative advantage of any development plan or activity. Therefore, it must engage the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development to reassess the relevance of Agriculture Inputs Programme that mostly benefits the rich at the expense of the targeted vulnerable groups.
Harvest from the agricultural subsidy programme hardly produces enough food for target households. This qualifies as subsidy to the rich.
The first point of call in any transformation project must be improvement of existing operating resources.
In this area, Malawi already has irrigation schemes that have collapsed and lost their productive power.
NPC must identify these underused irrigation scheme together with the ministries Agriculture and Economic Planning and Development to revamp them.
Revitalisation will restore national maximum output, create jobs, increase exports and include rural people in economic drive towards 2030.
Bwanje Irrigation Scheme in Dedza is a fitting example that needs urgent attention. Irrigation canals have silted and broken down affecting gravity irrigation mechanism, agricultural advisory is a mismatch to meet the demand of over 1200 member farmers and 88 commercial farmers and operational plants like tractor while errand van and rice packaging plants broke down years back.
The K110 billion misplaced in AIP can be channelled towards fixing all government-owned irrigation schemes to grow strategic high-value crops for sale and maize for the National Food Reserve Agency.
NPC must move out of the hotels’ conference rooms to spearhead and provide implementation oversight in village-based projects that can economically change people’s lives to achieve self-reliance and turn Malawi into a middle-income country by 2030.