Whenever i learnt that something that i want to do is being done successfully in another country, I sent my experts to go and study it.” These are the approximate words Lee Kuan Yew, first Prime Minister of Singapore says in his autobiography First World to First.
Four or five years ago, the Economics Association of Malawi (Ecama), at its annual gathering by the lakeshore made a recommendation about introducing commercial agriculture in Malawi.
I expressed misgivings about the recommendation because it seemed to be modelled on England’s 18th century system. That system involved driving the small farmer off the land. I argued that in England the dispossessed farmer could find alternative employment in urban centres where the industrial revolution was taking place. On the other hand, the Malawian peasant had nowhere to go.
I have often lamented that foreign magazines which we used to read 20 years ago are no longer available in our bookshops. We are becoming ill-connected to the general knowledge and experiences being generated abroad.
Excellent as our daily and weekly newspapers are, we cannot expect them to give us detailed information about what other people are doing to develop their countries.
I wonder if those people most concerned with agriculture in Malawi have read The Economist of May 12 to 18 2018 in which there an advertisement concerning commercial agriculture in Nigeria. We read about how big companies such as AFEX Commodities Exchange, Dangote Rice Outgrowers Scheme, Triton Group, and FMN have positioned themselves in the endeavor to meet Nigerian need first for food self-sufficiency and develop agro-based industries.
The big companies bolster the capacities of the smallholders instead of weakening them. The schemes encourage rural dwellers to stay there instead of forcing them to emigrate to urban centres which are already overcrowded. Besides, the schemes try to make smallholder farmers prosper from ownership of their land.
It is this kind of transformation that we need. Instead of merely shouting slogans about transforming Malawi’s economy, let us have our experts visit Nigeria and study what is going on there. Malawi and Nigeria are very different in size, but they resemble each other in density of population. Neither of them has what we would call empty land.
FMN says: “A farm without a factory will have no place for its produce and a factory without a farm will have no raw materials. Throughout its storied history, FMN has been committed to supporting the Nigerian farmer.”
The Dangote Rice Outgrowers Scheme aims at creating jobs for the rural settlers and stemming migration to urban cities most of which are over populated already.
In 2014, Dangote signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Federal Government of Ngeria to produce and sell a million tonnes of rice to the Nigerians market by next year.
Since the introduction of liberalisation at the resumption of multi-party political system in Malawi, alternative governments have not been able to effectively reposition the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) in the economy.
During a greater part of the Kamuzu era, Admarc was a sole buyer of smallholder produce. Since private buyers were allowed to compete with it, the State produce trader is not able to make the hefty profits that it used to make.
Perhaps the arrangements that the Nigerian government has with the big private corporations can be studies as models. Should Admarc be privatised? Will it operate as a private monopoly or compete with other corporations?