The 2015 Economics Association of Malawi (Ecama) Annual Lakeshore Conference was held on November 12 and 13 2015. In The Nation of Monday December 21 2015 appeared recommendations of the conference under the heading 2015 Ecama Communiqué.
There are 28 recommendations, many of them ideas that have been floated in the air for sometime. The communiqué recommends reorganisation of agriculture both technologically and socially. Technologically advanced implements should replace the hoe, society, the smallholder farmer who farms for subsistence should be replaced by large-scale farmers who should farm for business.
Recommendation 2.4 reads: “The land laws require urgent review to make available land to investors who can venture into large-scale agriculture. The current scenario where smallholder farmers are unwilling to part their land to potential and large investors is counterproductive. We recommend re-mapping and re-allocation of all idle land and estates to available investors.”
When I read this paragraph I immediately recalled the warning by John Maynard Kaynes about being master economist. He said inter alia: “The study of Economics does seem to require any specialised gifts unusually high order yet an easy subject at which very few excel. The paradox finds its explanation perhaps in that the master-economist must possess a rare combination of gifts. He must reach a high standard in several different directions and must combine talent not often found together. He must be mathematicians, historian, statesman and philosopher in some degree.”
The main weakness of the Ecama recommendation is that they are made merely with the help of economic theory. They ignore the guidance of social anthropology history and politics. They imply that the Malawian is just an economic man whereas he is in fact a social man multifaceted in his wants and needs.
I remember former president the late Hastings Kamuzu Banda denouncing some of the recommendations that had been made to him by expatriates: “They make these recommendations because they are not the ones who will face the people.”
In a country of mass democracy like Malawi can any government or president deprive smallholder farmers of their land by transferring it to capitalist investors and hope to be re-elected during the next general elections. In fact in the course of alienating their land, the chances are that peasants will be staging demonstrations which will have to be suppressed. Who wants such a situation?
To a Malawian land is more than a factor of production. It is a way of life not a workplace. Land is a home where you are day and night.
The Ecama recommendations are not very different from those which in the 18th Century England resulted in the enclosure system. Thousands or millions of small-scale farmers had their land taken away from them. Under the skillful management of men like Coke of Norfolk agriculture production soared. But the poet Oliver Goldsmith in the Deserted Village lamented: “Sweet Auburn to hosterning ills prey, where wealth accumulates men decay.”
The enclosures system forced thousands off the land. Fortunately for them Englands industrial revolution was at its peak. Many of the disposed were able to obtain jobs in factories. At the same time Britain was extending its empire worldwide. Those who could not be reallocated within England migrated to North America, Australia and some to Africa. When you have seized the smallholder’s land where will the poor man find alternative employment in Malawi? Are there industries enough in towns to absorb him? To which foreign lands can he migrate where he will not encounter xenophobia?
Before the government attempts to implement the Ecama recommendations it should avail itself of the insights of political sociologists and economic historians. The problem in Malawi is not lack of sound idea for revamping the economy, we do not have the institutions and will power for success. Before these recommendations are implemented, I would suggest a committee of experts should visit South East Asia and find out how they achieved the Green Revolution despite high densities of population. n