Despite that the Green Belt Initiative has potential to improve the countryâ€™s economy and food security, its sustainability is wrapped in some political and economic dilemmas. What are these dilemmas? Can they be resolved? EPHRAIM NYONDO writes:
Samuel Msomela, the local farmer from Chiradzulu, feels the Green Belt Initiative (GBI) is taking long to make him the richest person in the village.
“I wish it started yesterday. From what I heard on the radio and what you have told me, I feel this is the last solution to ending poverty in the villages,” he says.
It is not just him.
From Nthola-Ilora-Ngosi in Karonga through Lake Malombe in Mangochi to Shire Valley in Chikhwawa and Nsanje, the impatience of Msomela is shared by many.
Everybody, even those that will not actively participate in it, wants the initiative to roll out. But who does not? Its objectives are seductive; too sweet for a nation to wait.
But just as any development idea, the road to GBIâ€™s fruition will not come easily. The initiative is wrapped in a series of hurdles that call for critical rethinking, if anything substantial is to come out of it.
This is according to a final draft report sourced by The Nation titled The Political Economy of Land Alienation: Exploring â€˜Land Grabsâ€™ in the Green Belt Initiative in Malawi.
The reportâ€”written by development and governance expert Dr Henry Chingaipe, economics professor Ephraim Chirwa and political economists Michael Chasukwa and associate professor Blessings Chinsingaâ€”recognises a couple of dilemmas which militate against the initiativeâ€™s sustainability.
Political dilemma is one of them.
Written while the late president Bingu wa Mutharika was still in office, the report noted that, with the first phase ending in 2014, it was unlikely that the programme will be prioritised and pursued in its current form beyond the 2014 general election.
“GBI is currently understood as a presidential initiative. Popular support for the programme is driven more by political loyalty than a clear analysis of the strategies and expected social and economic outcomes,” says the report.
This concurs with what Chingaipe argues about the countryâ€™s threads of development continuity after regime change.
“Malawi tends to be incremental and changes in political leadership are significant in modifying preceding approaches,” he says.
Of course, President Joyce Banda has made statements underlining the importance of the initiative. But with her first budget cutting the budget, it remains to be seen if Malawi will still talk about the initiative beyond 2014.
This, again, is compounded by the policy dilemma rife within the bloodstream of the initiative.
“There is currently a clash of policies with regard to utilisation and conservation of natural resources. The observation that has motivated the GBI is that small lakes and perennial rivers and dams have been underutilised in ensuring optimal agricultural productivity through irrigation farming.
“This sharply contrasts with the environmental concern that most rivers and small lakes are facing environmental pressure due to overuse,” reads the report.
The report notes that GBIâ€™s clash is reflected in competing claims by different ministries on the feasibility of constructing a canal in the Lower Shire Valley as an incentive to potential investors in the GBI.
It adds that after the Ministry of Agriculture approved the construction based on results of a feasibility study, the Ministry of Tourism is demanding another feasibility study focusing on the eco-system around Majete Game Reserve and the welfare of flora and fauna.
That is not all. The Ministry of Energy and Mining is also demanding another feasibility study to look at the implications of constructing the canal on the generation of electric power at Kapichira falls.
“The importance of resolving these policy conflicts cannot be overemphasised. Their presence shows the Agriculture Sector Wide Approach (ASWAp) is working effectively in sharing information, but is not yet being used effectively in pooling resources and collaborating on specific cross-sector issues.
“Participating ministries continue to be working independently and at cross-purposes. Unless the ASWAp becomes a dispute resolution mechanism rather than just an information sharing forum, it is unlikely that GBI will be widely supported,” reads the report.
Added to the policy dilemma is the financial one. Despite receiving budgetary allocation for the past three budget presentations, the full cost of GBI is still a mystery.
The report quotes a government official who expressed deep scepticism about financial sustainability of the initiative.
“â€¦we understand GBI is a programme. It should have resources to be spent within a given time frame. But it appears the political leaders were just very keen to start the programme without ascertaining its financial base. We do not receive additional finances for GBI. We use the monthly subvention for office operations to implement activities of the GBI,” said the official.
The initiativeâ€™s concept paper, envisaged that large-scale commercial farmers and other private enterprises will use their own resources to finance their activities within the GBI.
However, the report notes that it is not clear whether the investors will be financially and operationally responsible for compensation and resettlement activities or this will be the role of the government.
“In other words, the GBI policy document is vague on rights and obligations of investors, government and communities in relation to land transfers.
“Malawi Government expects that international development partners will fund different components of the initiative, especially those components focussing on empowering smallholder farmers but not much are known of any arrangements for implementing this.
“So far, only the African Development Bank and the Indian government are known to have advanced sums of money to the Malawi Government for this initiative, about $60 million each,” it reads.
Unarguably, communities targeted for GBI are very poor. Most of them depend on subsidised inputs for subsistence farming.
Hence, without guaranteeing access to financial resources, it is unlikely that the GBI will take off in earnest. This is particularly important as lack of access to credit is an oft-cited constraint of advancement of smallholder farmers. Even worse, donor support oscillates.
Surely, the future of GBI rests heavily on how Malawi resolves these dilemmas.
Final Part: GBI targets smallholder and commercial farmers. But on whose land will commercial farmers produce? Wonâ€™t there be cases of land grabs? What are local farmers saying about this? Wonâ€™t land issues further complicate the implementation of the project?