Hon. Folks, there is the saying that to kill a snake you hit the head, not the tail. If poverty is a viper where is the head? Government has not told us where to hit to kill poverty, has it?
Look at it this way; China is the second largest economy in the world after the United States (US) with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $10.7 trillion. But when its vast wealth is shared among its 1.37 billion people— about a third of the global population—GDP per capita is only at $14 600.
This puts the Chinese in the same upper middle income economy category as South Africans, Brazilians and Batswana. Put differently, living standards in the second largest economy in the world are of a developing, as opposed to developed, nation, thanks to the population size.
Those of us who hail from the South, the so-called stronghold of the DPP—the party in government from 2004 to 2012 then from 2014 to date—know from experience that kuchulukana (high population growth), makes it virtually impossible to win the battle against abject poverty.
Life in the village is tied to the land, a resource which yields diminishing returns over time. As population grows and young adults start their own families, they look to their parents for a share of the family plot on which to build a house, grow their own crops and rear their own animals.
In many parts of the South, there is very little, if any, more land to share, a pattern which is fast spreading to the Centre and North. As a boy from Nkando in Mulanje, one of the most densely populated areas of the country, I can say without fear of contradiction that when there is no more land to share, people do not just sit and wait for death.
They fight and kill for land. Out of desperation, the displaced go to extent of cutting down trees and clearing bushes so they can open up new gardens anywhere—on hill sides and tops, on river beds and in the unused parts of the graveyard.
There is hardly any thought of leaving behind a beautiful Nkando as an inheritance for the generations to come.
In fact, the destruction is so massive that people along the banks of Thuchila are relocating, afraid of being swept away in the night when the stripped and violated river rushes furiously downstream when it rains heavily, to avert the modest exposure to the uninitiated and corrupt if daybreak catches her meandering gracefully into the amorous embrace of an equally razor-shaved and disgracefully exposed Ruo.
Consequently, a growing number of villagers work on the land the whole year round and harvest nothing, Fisp or no Fisp, rain or no rain. We may brag about a maize surplus this year but this is at the national level. At the household level, there is always a deficit, getting bigger with time, for which government mitigates with relief.
But the tragedy is that the political narrative is dominated by Fisp and relief. Every time chiefs and leaders of faith communities have access to MBCTV’s boom mic, or when they are called to the State House, they have nothing but praises for APM and his government for subsiding production with cheaper fertiliser and seed and for subsiding consumption with relief hand-outs.
As for population which is growing at over 3 percent per year, among the highest growth rates in Africa the rest of the world, it’s a taboo to politicians. In Malawi, population growth remains an academic issue in demography.
Politicians fear losing the vote if they pointed out the fact that fertility of a Malawian woman in 1950 was at 6.78 births. In 2015—after more than 60 years of talk and more talk about educating the girl child and gender equality—the fertility of the woman has only gone down slightly by a percentage point.
Yet, politicians today have nothing better to offer on population than same old child-spacing messages. Some see hope in the raising of the marriage age to 18 but even if there was 100 percent compliance, which I very much doubt would happen, it would still be possible the village woman to retire with five or more children.
Yet apart from hunger, we are told that the economy has to grow by 6 percent or more a year—an elusive feat so far—for the growing Malawian population to start sharing wealth, not poverty. A reputable economist said recently that if the economy grows by only 5 percent, it will take 15 years for us to just maintain the current levels of poverty.
Any more doubt that population explosion is the head we must hit hard to kill abject poverty? n