Resource strapped governments in sub-Saharan Africa including Malawi should pool their resources together to establish a regional body for agricultural extension services to boost production and eradicate rural poverty.
Over the years, agricultural extension services have been dogged by efficiency problems and their operations have dwindled, a development that has led to farmers not adhering to good farming practices, hence; affecting output.
A researcher at Trade and Law Centre (Tralac), Sean Woofrey, said while for the most part, the policies and measures which can be used to promote agricultural production and eradicate rural poverty are likely to be domestic policies, there are a number of factors that can be addressed in the context of regional integration and regional cooperation.
“Similarly, cooperation on the development of rural roads and other infrastructure can serve to assist poor farmers to participate more fully in the regional economy,” said Woofrey, in a research paper that discusses regionalism, agriculture and economic development.
The Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) president Felix Jumbe said on Tuesday that the establishment of regional extension body could be feasible.
“If it is a private sector driven approach, then that is feasible. Agricultural extension work in Malawi has been affected by efficiency problems over the years and this could be the right approach to ensure robust extension services,” he observed.
In Malawi, an agro-based economy, agriculture contributes more than 30 of the gross domestic product (GDP)-the broadest measure of economic output in a year.
But Woofrey said the most important aspect of the regional integration agenda for promoting small-scale agriculture and alleviating rural poverty, is ensuring that producers are not impeded from selling their produce in neighbouring markets.
“In the region it is common for small-scale farmers to face numerous barriers when attempting to sell goods in the territory of neighbouring states. This not only results in lower earnings for the individual producer, but at the aggregate level results in a situation whereby food surplus countries in sub-Saharan Africa canâ€™t always trade their surplus with food-deficit ones, resulting in the region not being able to feed itself,” he explained.
The researcher found that contrary to popular perception, sustained economic growth in South-East Asia was initially spurred, not by export-oriented industrialisation but rather by government policies which aimed to improve life in the rural sector, raise incomes for small-scale farmers, increase agricultural productivity and domestic food supply and create conditions of economic freedom for peasant farmers and other small actors.
He said measures to boost agricultural productivity and output would secure greater incomes for poor farmers in the region and go some way toward alleviating rural poverty.
Given the proportion of the regionâ€™s population involved in small-scale agriculture, this would also serve to boost the national income of many countries in the region, he said.