President Lazarus Chakwera says time for road shows on agricultural commercialisation is over and has challenged Cabinet ministers and Malawians at large to start working on the ground for results.
The President said this at the opening of the Malawi Agricultural Policy Advancement and Transformation Agenda (Mwapata) Institute 2022 Agricultural Productivity and Commercialisation Conference. He specifically gave Minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe six months to produce results on the implementation of mega farms.
He said his nine political-party Tonse Alliance promised mega farms as a way of transforming the country’s agricultural sector, but two years down the line the Ministry of Agriculture was yet to produce one.
Said Chakwera: “This is a failure I no longer have the patience to abide. For this reason, Iam giving the Ministry of Agriculture six months to produce results that the eyes of Malawians can see. We cannot go into 2023 with this business-as-usual approach. Not on my watch.
“The time for action on mega farms is not next year. It is now. The time for ending our reliance on subsistence farming is not next year. It is now. The time for producing commercial crops on a massive scale and boosting our forex earnings is not next year. It is now.”
The President said he expected the conference not to be just another platform for people to hear themselves talk, but for action and results. He said the coming rainy season should mark the start of a new era of farming in Malawi.
Chakwera said he was fully vested in the agenda of transforming the agricultural sector towards commercialisation.
He said: “This is why next week I am launching the Private Sector Labs through the Presidential Delivery Unit which will bring together private sector players to tell us about the roadblocks they face in their quest to invest in this country.
“As such, I expect the Minister of Agriculture and his team to be there, not to defend themselves or talk like they don’t need new ideas, but to listen to those who want to invest in mega farms in this country.”
The President observed that with large swathes of untapped fertile land, fresh water lakes and rivers that are the envy of the world, and a citizenry that lives and breathes agriculture, there is no excuse for piecemeal approaches to farming.
He said what Malawi lacks is not policy direction or investment opportunities and public pronouncements on agricultural productivity and commercialisation through mega farms, but implementation.
In his remarks, National Planning Commission director general Thomas Chataghalala Munthali said the economy needs a huge jump-start in investments to graduate into a middle-income country.
He said Malawi will not need the usual incremental investments by smallholder farmers nor just the micro, small, medium enterprises (MSMEs), but investments of the size of mega farms running on huge irrigation tracks.
Said Munthali: “The mega farms should act as anchor farms supporting smallholder farmers in surrounding communities with a ready market and intensive land use production technologies and extension services.”
Lowe said the country has good climatic conditions for production of a wide range of crops, livestock and fisheries for domestic and export markets.
However, he said Malawi has over the years relied on tobacco for exports and maize for food such that the nation is at the mercy of the two crops.
Lowe said: “In years of good harvest, the joy of our farmers is short-lived and curtailed by low commodity prices in the local markets where everyone has almost the same commodity to sell.”
Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) deputy vice-chancellor Agnes Mwangwela, who is Mwapata Institute board member, said the conference will focus on critical areas that the country should tackle to attain a more diversified economy for improved agricultural productivity and sustainable value chains.
She said the conference will also look at the role of women and youth, innovations, investments and entrepreneurship in driving the agricultural diversification agenda in the country.
This year’s conference has brought together stakeholders in the agricultural sector including, government ministries, departments, and agencies, farmer’s organisations, the donor community, civil society, private sector, the media, and academia to explore how to achieve full potential of agricultural diversification in Malawi for improved agricultural productivity and commercialisation.
On the ultimatum given to the minister, Luanar agricultural economist Horace Phiri said much as it is not an ideal situation to operate under a directive and a tight deadline, having an operational mega farm is achievable in six months.
He said mega farms are industrial size farms involved in intensive production of crops or livestock.
On the other hand, agricultural development and policy expert Tamani Nkhono Mvula backed Chakwera, saying Lowe seemed preoccupied with Affordable Inputs Programme while neglecting other equally important investments such as mega farms.
The two-day conference is held under the theme ‘Driving Agricultural Diversification In Support of the Aspirations of Malawi2063’.