The Malawi Socio Economic Forum, hosted by Standard Bank in partnership with the Government of Malawi, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and A4AY, a Malawian youth development agency, presented an upbeat view of Malawian growth prospects.
Policy certainty and an increasingly benign interest rate and macro-economic environment, “presented the best opportunity in decades to deal with the country’s now well documented youth challenges,” said Andrew Mashanda, chief executive, Standard Bank Limited, Malawi.
With 90 percent of the Malawian economy based on agriculture, food production, processing, marketing, distribution and export, Mashanda said this presented a huge opportunity to, “develop value chains and innovate youth-driven digital services and solutions harnessing agriculture for national development, skills creation, employment and global earnings.”
Vice-President Saulos Chilima, believed that “everything was now in place–from a policy and legislative perspective–to leverage Malawi’s natural agricultural advantages for domestic growth and global export.”
Despite being a relatively small, landlocked and under-developed market, Malawi’s potential market was one of the biggest in the world.
Malawi has unfettered access to Southern African Development Coorperation (Sadc) and (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), as well as access to the United States market through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
It could also access the European Union through the Economic Partnership Agreement (EAP).Other bi-lateral agreements also mean that Malawi has the potential to export to China and India.
“The size of this opportunity presented a strong business case for investment in Malawi’s huge agricultural potential,” said Vice President Chilima.
Land reform, title and ownership legislation are now in place allowing investment in agriculture – along with the consolidation of small holder titles into larger commercial and mechanised farms. Responding to the impact of climate change, both the recently published National Agricultural policy and National Irrigation policy (were aimed at, accelerating production through planned irrigation and the optimal use of Malawi’s abundant water resources. These would create, “a vibrant, year-round, domestic agricultural market augmented by regional cross-border and global trade and export,” said Vice-President Chilima.
Despite this potential, however, only one percent of Malawi’s youth were considering a career in agriculture.
The recently released Malawi Youth Status Report, presented by Judith Msusa, Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development also reported that 52 percent of Malawi’s approximately 17 million citizens were below the age of 18.
Only 35 percent of children reached the end of primary school, and only 46 percent of these went on to graduate from secondary school.
About 53.5 percent of children between the ages of five and 17 were working in agriculture in rural areas, without pay. 29 percent of child labourers never attended school at all. Over 10 percent of girls were married by the age of 15, with nearly 50% married by 18.
Adolescent fertility was one of the highest in the region with 177 births per 1 000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19.
The report went on to recommend that the best way to deal with these challenges was to, “keep children, especially girls, in school longer, re-introduce technical subjects at secondary schools, teach entrepreneurship at community and technical colleges, provide start-up grants for new graduates and promote internship programs within businesses,” reported Msusa.
“The fact that agriculture is not seen as the answer to so many of the youth’s challenges – even though so many were already involved in agriculture – is an important perception gap that Malawi needed to address,” said Dr Joseph YossieShevel, President of the Galilee Institute of Management.
Dr.Shevel, who has worked extensively across Africa, introducing high-tech solutions and efficiency processes in the continent’s agricultural sector, believes that, once Malawi youth realise the huge potential of agriculture – especially its need for high tech innovation presenting opportunity for global exports–young people would flock to the sector.
“The future of agriculture is in high tech innovation in an increasingly complex yet exciting global market place,” he asserted. With the right skills and infrastructure Malawi’s youth could set the country on a path to world leadership in agricultural innovation, production, financing, processing, transport, export and trade.
Rachel Sibande, founder of mHub, Malawi’s first technology incubator, added that designing, creating and building technology and digital solutions that combined Malawi’s huge agricultural advantages with its youth dividend, “required a generation of young people that were not job seekers, but rather job creators.” This requires schools to teach design and network building skills, preparing youth for a digital age.
Sibande believes that banks have a vital role to play in supporting innovation though the provision of capital. The banking sector should be looking to partner with fintech start-ups, deepening financial inclusion in Malawi where only six percent of the population had a bank account,” she added.
Mashanda concurred. “Malawi is ripe for digital disruption in a number of sectors, including financial services.”
Standard Bank had a number of platforms ready and waiting to bring to Malawi. SHYFT, for example, a global digital wallet for Android and iOS allowed the buying, spending and sending of funds in foreign currencies, could empower Malawian farmers with cross-border multi-currency trading ability–all from their mobile devices. Other obvious opportunities for technology driven disruption, growth and new job creation are Malawi’s food distribution, agricultural advice and training and seed accessing spaces.
Government services, once digitised, also present opportunities for efficiency and growth.
None of this, however, can be achieved without investment in digital and ITC infrastructure. n