Recently, Felix Elia Jumbe resigned as Farmers Union of Malawi (Fum) president and announced his intention to contest for the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) presidency. His decision shocked many who knew him as an effective voice for farmers in the country. DUMBANI MZALE caught up with Jumbe to explain his political dreams.
Q: You resigned as Farmers Union of Malawi (Fum) president to the surprise of many who perceived you as an ardent and passionate farmer. Why this shift?
A: Indeed, this is shocking not only to others but even to myself because all along, I thought it was enough to lobby for policies that would promote farmers at all levels, but realising that not all people know farming because it is a skill and as a skill, you only know it after practising and learning from your own mistakes, then you can devise solutions for the future. The design of policies for such solutions can, therefore, only come from someone who has practised farming and has learnt from his or her own failures. I happen to be the sacrificial lamb for farmers in Malawi, to go into politics in order to devise policies, legislations and regulations that would provide relief to farmers in Malawi from modern day slavery. I still remain a farmer and a member of the Farmers Union of Malawi.
Q: Why have you decided to join Malawi Congress Party (MCP)?
A: All citizens of Malawi, up to 1994 were members of MCP and by choice, I remained MCP because it is the party that gave birth to the Nation of Malawi and as such, to me it remains motherly and cannot plunder the nation of its resources like any other party. The policies of MCP promote hard work among the citizens and its role has been to provide capacity for each household to produce. In fact, its logo, the cock, represents hard-working people who wake up by a cock early in the morning to go and work to earn a living.
Under the late Hastings Kamuzu Banda, MCP invested in agricultural development in many forms that made life in the village better than living in the city, which is not the case today. Imagine, all the eight ADDs [Agricultural Development Divisions] in the country to provide extension, all the major irrigation schemes from Karonga to Nsanje, the Admarc system that was functional, the auction floors, the Malawi Dairy Industies (MDI), all the dipping tanks, the SFFRM and many other establishments that were made to support farming and not forgetting the commercial farms that were developed and the setting up of a special bank for farmers, Commercial Bank of Malawi, I believe this is a testimony that this MCP loved Malawi and farmers perhaps because Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda was a farmer number one and I want to be a farmer number two. Most of the above mentioned are today destroyed or working at 50 percent capacity as if the country were shrinking. Jimmy Carter was also a groundnuts farmer when he became a president of the USA.
Q: What do you think are the most critical social and economic challenges facing Malawi?
A: The most critical challenge, which is both social and economic, is the low level of labour productivity of its population, of which the major culprit sector to low productivity is the farming sector due to low investment in productivity or adoption of new technology by farmers due to challenges in finance access and also high levels of illiteracy (about 70 percent). This has made Malawi a high cost base and renders the country uncompetitive to exports compared to other countries in the region.
The problem has been made worse with approaches that focus on poverty alleviation which is a more short-term thinking framework and focused on the unproductive sector of society—the poor of the poorest—and intended to make us a population of beggars. As a country, we cannot just live to alleviate poverty and hunger. I believe we can do better if we were to focus on wealth creation because this is from God.
The multiparty politics has divided Malawians back into their tribes. The administrative and economic systems/ order has been disturbed a lot for the past 20 years, affecting delivery of services and many other outputs.
Q: What is the solution to these problems?
A: The solution lies in changing the policy focus from poverty alleviation to wealth creation— and this is fundamental change—and also redesigning a new economic order/system responding to the needs of the citizens of Malawi in the 21st century.
Q: Why do you think you are the best person to solve these challenges and why through MCP?
A. My own life experience has gone through all the systems and worked through such tough conditions and succeeded in my own modest way. This has built in me resilience in handling issues and also afforded me a practical approach to development. I have a proven track record in providing solutions and directions. When the poultry industry was collapsing in 1999 due to unregulated liberalisation, I responded by intensifying the ability to lobby for change of policies and we managed to change the game through Poultry Industry of Malawi (Piam). Today, the country is producing its own chickens and eggs are being exported.
Again, when the seed industry was on the verge of collapsing in 2004 due to fake seeds from briefcase companies, I rose and formed the Seed Trade Association of Malawi (Stam) to bring sanity in the industry and today the association has increased the capacity to produce certified seeds and over 15 small seed companies have emerged.
When farmers have been destitute, I became an effective voice for them and increased membership from 40 in 2010 to 178 now and 500 commercial farmers with individual members exceeding three million now.
These events have made me walk through a path which no other candidate in Malawi contesting has walked, hence my special perceptions to the challenges.
Q: What is your word to those that are interested in you and are ready to give out their vote to you?
A. Felix Jumbe shall bring sanity to politics because I shall devise means to engage the majority of the population into meaningful economic activities. As a country, we cannot live to alleviate hunger and poverty for the rest of our lives; for sure there must be a better objective to live for like creating wealth which is the strongest weapon for conquering poverty.