Participants to the second leg of the Pre-Budget Consultations Meetings have challenged government to improve on implementation of resilience policies to respond to weather shocks such as dry spells which have negatively affected agricultural production.
In their contributions in Lilongwe yesterday, Economics Association of Malawi (Ecama) and Malawi Economic Justice Network (Mejn) said the slow implementation and low agricultural production threaten to stagnate economic growth.
The two bodies have since urged government to make tangible investments in irrigation as one way of building resilience in case of drought and resulting in low agricultural production as it happened this year.
In a contribution under the theme Towards Development Oriented, Resilient and Inclusive Budget, Ecama executive director Maleka Thula said when the agriculture sector experiences slow growth, the economy cannot grow.
He said despite the investments in value addition, there was need to move to large-scale mechanised farming to improve production not smallholder farming.
Ecama has also called for the review of the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) to analyse its relevance.
Said Thula: “The agriculture sector is too fragile due to adverse weather patterns as such there is need to put more resources towards irrigation development to overcome challenges of low productivity and climate change effects.
“We need to start seeing the fruits of the Green Belt Initiative after delinking it from the Ministry of Agriculture [Irrigation and Water Development]. What is needed now are results.”
In its presentation titled Building a Productive, Competitive and Resilient Nation, Mejn lamented the little progress in implementation of resilience building interventions in climate change adaptation and management.
Mejn noted that only half of the 28 districts were practising climate change adaptation and mitigation measures, an increase of four from 2016.
“We are not recovering fast enough from shocks and perhaps this is undermined by financing or technical capacity of those in the frontline of service delivery. We are failing to break the cycle of vulnerability from weather shocks, something which is crucial considering that Malawi is an agro-based economy,” said Mejn executive director Dalitso Kubalasa.
Mejn also found that only two percent of the targeted 10 percent of the population has been cushioned from the impact of drought and floods since 2016.
Malawi being an agro-based economy, at least 30 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) is from agriculture followed by wholesale and retail then manufacturing.
In 2018, dry spells experienced mid-rainy season and fall army worms leading to the loss of over 600 000 hectares of maize threaten the growth and the ever decreasing inflation have prompted the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development to revise downwards to between four and 4.5 percent from six to seven percent economic growth targets.
In the 2017/18 budget, the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development released K21 billion for the purchase of maize but had to set aside an additional K34.8 billion in the revised budget for the advance purchase of 200 000 metric tonnes by Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation and National Food Reserve Agency.
Responding to the proposals, Secretary to the Treasury Ben Botolo, who led the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development team in the absence of Minister Goodall Gondwe, said the government had planned heavy investments in agriculture through the Shire River Basin programme and the Bwanje Valley Irrigation programme but these required private sector assistance to be fully developed.
He said: “Land is critical to ensuring these irrigation investments bear fruit. There is need to organise farmers through cooperatives, analyse the land holding by smallholder farmers and put it to good use through irrigation.”
Botolo said government would still consider private sector involvement in commercial growing of crops such as maize even after few companies expressed interest or had the capacity for large-scale crop production.
Other contributors such as Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen) appealed to Treasury to consider allocating 15 percent of the budget to health in line with the Abuja Declaration with particular consideration of increasing the Other Recurrent Transactions vote for fuel to cater for standby generators at district hospitals.
Mhen’s wish-list also included purchase of medical equipment such as dialysis machines, ambulances to improve the response to referral cases, recruitment of health workers trained by the government as well as improved infrastructure developments.