Green Belt Initiative (GBI), tipped to reduce Malawiâ€™s economic challenges in the medium to long term, is riddled with several challenges.
GBI national coordinator Professor George Kanyama-Phiri cites inadequate funding, access to land, misconceptions among communities and lack of private sector participation as some of the problems that bedevils the programme.
GBI was allocated K7 billion in 2011/12 national budget and K1 billion in the 2012/2013 financial year.
â€œIn the 2012/2013 financial year, we received K1 billion yet the Salima Scheme alone requires K1.8 billion. It should, however, be appreciated that government is doing its best, but the project needs to be shared with other institutions.
â€œGovernment has also secured $50 million (K16 billion) credit from India to complement the budgetary allocation and the money will be used to build a sugar factory in Salima and purchase equipment for Mangochi and Karonga irrigation schemes,â€ he said.
GBI was conceived in 2007 and it received an initial allocation of K100 million in the 2009/10 national budget.
The allocation jumped to K2 billion in the 2010/11, rose to K7 billion the following year before dropping drastically to K1 billion in the 2012/13 financial year.
But what exactly has GBI achieved?
Kanyama-Phiri says infrastructural development projects take time to plan and execute.
He, however, said they have so far designed the 530-hectare Chikhwawa Green Belt Scheme whose construction started in June 2012 and is expected to be completed in March 2013.
The GBI national coordinator said they are currently working on designs for three other irrigation schemes in Karonga, Mangochi and Chikhwawa.
They have also developed a five-year strategic plan for the initiative, conducted resource mapping, baseline surveys and mobilised communities in target irrigation sites.
He, however, said in some areas land sizes are small and fragmented; hence, impossible for commercial farming.
â€œAnother challenge frustrating the initiative is a misconception among communities that GBI wants to grab their land,â€ he said.
He, however, said they are overcoming the challenge through civic education and campaign meetings with target communities.
A report, by development and governance expert Dr Henry Chingaipe, economics professor Ephraim Chirwa, political economist Michael Chasukwa and political scientist Blessings Chinsinga, titled The Political Economy of Land Alienation: Exploring Land Grabs in Green Belt Initiative identifies a number of challenges likely to face GBI and it fears that beyond 2014 the programme would lack priority; hence, it will not be pursued.
The document, done when the former president Bingu wa Mutharika was in office, noted that GBI was understood as a presidential initiative such that support for the programme was driven by political loyalty not a clear analysis of expected social and economic outcomes.
Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet) national coordinator Tamani Nkhono-Mvula said GBI is a viable programme that can give the country good returns for its investment.
Nkhono-Mvula said initiative knits well with such sectors as manufacturing, processing and packaging.
Recently, Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) president Felix Jumbe said GBI is good initiative, but contended that without sound objective and strategies for implementation it could be a failure.