The Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) has said Malawi is not doing enough to venture into serious irrigation farming to solve the food deficit it faces year in, year out.
FUM president Felix Jumbe, responding to the 2012/13 allocation of K200 million for the Malawi Irrigation Development Programme, said the money allocated is not enough to do the work.
He argued the money could only be enough for per diems, saying only 10 percent is what will be used for the intended purpose.
Finance Minister Dr. Ken Lipenga said in the budget statement that, apart from the K1 billion allocated for Greenbelt Irrigation Initiative (GBI) for scaling up irrigation initiatives across the country, government also allocated K500 million for the construction of multipurpose dams while the Malawi Irrigation Development Programme was allocated K200 million.
But Jumbe said: “It costs $3 000 (K10 million) per hectare to develop land into irrigable area on average and Malawi needs to put at least 2 000 hectares under irrigation in addition to the already developed land for us to be strategically positioned for food security.”
He said since government started talking about the GBI, there is nothing serious that has been done.
“There is much talking about the intentions and less doing and more spending. Malawi needs reformatting and reengineering the economic order so that we can have a designed economic system that delivers productivity, production and exports. From the records on export trends on rice, it shows that Malawi last exported the highest volume of rice in 1979,” said Jumbe.
The farming system in Malawi is dependent on rains and, over the years, no serious investment has been made on irrigation except for those made in the 1960s and 1970s that saw the establishment of irrigation schemes such as Wovwe, Lufilya, Hara, Chonanga in Karonga and Limphasa in Nkhata Bay and Bua and Kasitu in Nkhotakota, Bwanje in Dedza/ Salima, Domasi in Zomba and those in the Lower Shire.
Just two weeks ago, it was reported that one of the schemes in Karonga, Hara is on the verge of breaking down because the infrastructure has outlived its lifespan; hence the need for serious investment to reclaim more than 250 hectares of land under irrigation which is under threat.
This only shows that money allocated is insufficient for the investment in irrigation farming to make a meaningful impact.
Jumbe bluntly said that Malawi has failed to transform the agriculture sector over the years because the sector has been politicised and so often politician would like to circulate poverty by under investing so that farmers can keep on praising them for the little that they are doing.
On the other hand, he said well to do farmers are not a fertile ground for Malawian politicians.
Jumbe also faulted Structural Adjustment Programmes (Saps) the World Bank championed in the late 1980s.
“Malawi has chosen more or less socialism economic policies at the early stages which saw government undertaking businesses that would have otherwise been taken by the private sector such as Admarc, Malawi Dairy Industries and many other statutory corporations.
“These suffocated the development of private sector and the Saps had intended to release the locked out private sector by government dominance but these were resisted by government,” he explained.
FUM officials also noted that Malawi’s smallholder farmers can work better as cooperatives to bring in productivity and economies of scale because farming needs to be considered as a business of scale to make an impact.
“Malawi has failed to deliberately put a programme that would promote mechanisation. In fact, farmers were more mechanised in the 1970s than now when there was more usage of oxen.
“In fact, from our records, the formation of Leasing and Finance Company was intended to be a vehicle for promoting mechanisation in Malawi, but the money was diverted into other sectors,” he claimed.
The agriculture sector currently contributes over 27 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), but over the years, the contribution has been on the downward spiral due to a number of factors.
Experts also argue that the sector, in general, has suffered from policy, legislation, regulatory, leadership, politicians and the farmers themselves, and this has locked transformation of the sector; hence, the need for a paradigm shift to urgently restore the sector’s lost glory.