Vice-President Saulos Chilima has warned that Malawi is sitting on five impending socio-economic crises that must be tackled decisively if the country is to achieve holistic agriculture sector transformation as outlined in the Malawi 2063.
The Vice-President, who is also Minister of Economic Planning and Development; and Public Sector Reforms said this on Tuesday in Lilongwe when he presided over the 2021 inaugural Malawi Agriculture Policy Conference 2021.
The conference was held under the theme Supporting Agriculture Transformation in Malawi: Beyond Research to Implementation and was organised by the Malawi Agriculture Policy Advancement and
Transformation Agenda (Mwapata).
Chilima said: “I do believe that having clear and relevant guidance from sector experts is very important for us because the mega socio-economic trends for the country are currently pointing to an impending socio-economic crisis if we do not act decisively now.”
The five socio-economic trends, according to the second citizen, include rapid decline in the international prices for tobacco, rapid population growth, shrinking arable land sizes, poor agricultural productivity per individual, and low agriculture sector growth.
Broadly commenting on each trend, Chilima lamented that international tobacco producer prices had plunged from $1 008 (about K786 240) per tonne in 2009 to $193 (K150 540) in 2016 “yet, as a country, we remain arguably the most tobacco-dependent country in the world, as tobacco accounts for over 50 percent of foreign exchange earnings”.
On rapid population growth, he recalled that in 2018 the Population and Housing Census showed that the country’s population stood at 18.1 million, but said current projections indicate that tthere will be 45 million people by 2050.
“The major challenge we have as a country is that about 85 percent of this population is currently rural-based and 90 percent of these depend on agriculture for their livelihoods,” he said.
Thirdily, Chilima said recent research has shown that arable land sizes have shrunk from 0.40 hectares (ha) to a mere 0.22 ha between 1971 and 2016.
Such a trend, he said, suggests that it is unlikely that future households will inherit sufficient land to maintain a reasonable livelihood from farming alone.
Chilima also bemoaned that the level of Malawi’s agricultural output per worker remains amongst the lowest in the world despite agriculture being Malawi’s mainstay.
On poor agriculture sector growth rate, he said the agriculture sector has roughly grown at the rate of two percent annually, since 2000, below the population growth rate of about three percent.
However, the veep said government remains resolute and optimistic to tackle the challenges, stressing that with Malawi’s current stage of development and limited industrial development, the agriculture sector still offers the best immediate prospects for furthering the country’s economic transformation.
On his part, Mwapata Institute chairperson Richard Mkandawire told the conference that as an agriculture think-tank, the organisation remains a key partner to the government’s drive towards agricultural transformation in Malawi while also committing to defining a new agricultural narrative as embodied in Malawi 2063.