Agriculture is the backbone of Malawi’s economy. It accounts for 31 percent of gross domestic product, 90 percent of its export earnings and employs over 80 percent of Malawians.
Any fluctuation in agricultural production affects food security and income of the majority of the population.
Although agriculture plays such a significant role in the economy, it still faces many challenges.
The system is seriously threatened by many factors, pest and disease outbreaks as well as weeds.
These common problems require a serious attention just as do unpredictable weather, soil infertility, soil erosion, inappropriate land use and gaps in water conservation.
Additionally, smallholder farmers’ operations usually are constrained by poor access to farm inputs and extension service among others.
Despite these problems, agriculture remains the engine of economic growth for the country.
As such, there is a need for significant efforts to improve agriculture productivity to reduce poverty.
While the targeted farm input subsidy programme has been a success and the current government is commended for increasing the number of beneficiaries, it is not a sustainable policy option given the strain it creates on the national budget.
In view of this, there are more areas requiring greater investment in the agriculture sector.
The need for increased funding for agricultural research and development to generate new technologies likely to increase productivity.
Increasing budget allocation for agriculture research and development by increasing its budget allocation is crucial.
Alhough agriculture gets a lion’s share, the government currently invests only four percent of the agricultural budget in research.
Currently, most agriculture research in the country is funded by donors, who at times do not align with our national research agenda and priority needs.
This meagre allocation also puts into question the sustainability of programmes such as seed breeding, livestock, soil fertility, plant health research currently underway.
Infrastructural development is another area of concern. Most of the research stations in Malawi use archaic laboratories that require upgrading to keep up with the current trends and standards in agriculture research and development.
As such, there is a need for proper and strategic investments in this area.
While there are numerous agricultural researchers with masters’ degrees and doctorates, many are not putting their academic and professional expertise to use to improve agricultural sector due to lack of funding and poor infrastructure.
The need for policies to strengthen technology transfer and research collaborations among researchers is also an area that require attention for agricultural research to bear fruit.
For instance, there is a need to synchronise research conducted by government, private sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and international organisations to meet national research priorities and facilitate effective technology transfer to the end users.
While investment in agriculture research are crucial, there is also need to strength delivery of extension services.
Currently research institutions produce some agricultural techniques with the potential to improve agricultural productivity, but the deficiencies in extension delivery, including inadequate personnel, resources and technical know-how, limit technology transfer and adoption.
This can be reversed by recruiting more extension workers, reviewing delivery methods, collaborative extension delivery with non-governmental organisations and adequate financial resources to facilitate extension service delivery among others.
While the new regime has increased beneficiaries of fertiliser subsidy from one million to 3.5 million, the need to strengthen and grow other key areas in the sector cannot be over emphasised.
While we commend the government for making farm inputs affordable for needy farmers, other vital thematic areas like research and extension areas should not be left out.