Agricultural distress is often viewed as a short-term phenomenon in which farmers look for support from various quarters on account of being unable to get a gainful return due to price crash, poor market systems, rising credit burden, increasing cost of inputs and frequent occurrence of natural calamities.
On the streets this week, we have borrowed the word agricultural distress, because of what is going on in the country, where most farmers have no money because they can’t sell their farm produce or if they sell it, it will be to a vendor who is offering the lowest price. It is truly, a sad situation and farmers are in distress.
The term agricultural distress is often associated with the prolonged unrest in rural India—especially in Andhra Pradesh where farmers kill themselves in large numbers due to failure to earn enough from their farm produce, as a consequence they fail to pay back farm loans.
Although the number of farmers who are killing themselves here in Malawi is yet to reach alarming levels, word on the street is that farmers are on the brink of committing suicide due to government failure to give direction on commodity market.
Like it or not, agricultural distress is becoming a permanent feature due to the failure of governments to find a lasting solution to challenges facing the sector but also local financial institutions withdrawing their support to farmers.
The consequence is that helpless farmers are increasingly pushed to the brink of poverty. As if the lack of support is not enough, government policies make agriculture the worst of all business ventures.
This year, the distress seems to have reached a tipping point, with scenes of dejected farmers throwing agricultural produce such as maize, soya, groundnuts, pegion peas and cotton at the knees of vendors at give-away prices to save their property from creditors.
No one in this Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government really cares about the farmer. Rather than addressing the genuine problems of farmers, APM thinks that by making promises that State produce trader, the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) will be funded and open its markets nationwide will solve the problem.
Typical of DPP-led government, it was a blue lie that Admarc will buy maize as no Admarc market has enough funds to buy the crop which is in abundance this year. As I write, millions of farmers across the country have stockpiles of maize waiting for Admarc to purchase. As days drag into months, the fear is that farmers will not repay the loans for labour, fertiliser and chemicals.
The unfortunate part is that the failure by government to provide a market for farm produce such as maize, farmers will not have the capacity to produce enough food next year. That aside, the economy will also suffer as credit organisations are being forced to confiscate iron sheets and bicycles from farmers to recover whatever little they can recover.
But should we be surprised that this is happening? We should not be. DPP-led government has its priorities upside down. When farmers are busy investing to earn money for themselves and the country by working hard in the fields, ‘cadets’ at Capital Hill are busy finding ways to plunder and loot public resources to fund the re-election of APM in 2019. What a shame!
Word on the street is that, this government has no interest of farmers at heart. Why would APM be interested in farming?
But let the old professor hear this: farmers are the lifeline of this country and will remain so for the unforeseeable future. Their demands are simple. They want a reasonable price for their produce, better markets, institutional credit, irrigation loans, affordable quality seeds and fertilisers. Is this too much to ask for? Are these unjust demands?