Malawi continues to suffer from perennial food shortage, yet the country used to be one of Africa’s food baskets owing to its agriculture-led economy. Our reporter FATSANI GUNYA speaks with Minister of Agriculture and Water Development Allan Chiyembekeza on what went wrong.
So much politics surrounds maize availability in the country, with government always making refutations on food shortage. Why does Malawi find itself in such a situation?
Everyone knows the food shortage is a result of a decline in food production mainly due to climatic challenges Malawi and other countries are facing. Financial constraints have also suffocated our mitigation and adaptation capacity where irrigation falls under. But no matter the hitches, we are making progress and domestically we plan to invest more in irrigation than before.
It is also unfortunate that for whatever reasons, some quarters believe they can gain political mileage by politicising food. Food is a sensitive issue. Achieving food security at household level is a tall order because of some underlying factors such as poverty. But if you talk of food security at national level, we have done it before and we will strive to go back to when Malawi was a food basket.
On the alleged refutations, let me hasten to say government does not refute; it just provides the official position on such critical matters as opposed to the subjective, inflated, emotional and rumour-infested statements that will never feed any single soul in this country other than cause panic. Let critics talk whatever they want but we will only accept what is constructive.
Amid concerns over climate change, isn’t it time we constructed strategic dams on rivers to harvest water for irrigation farming?
You are very right. As explained that is the thinking of the government too, it is expensive but a must-do for our nation. Dams can be cheaper than pumping but, of course, expensive to construct. However, the most important thing is we must keep our vegetation so that there is water flowing in these rivers because we have good examples of how perennial rivers are drying up and cause problems to the people.
Does Malawi have enough land resource to help feed ourselves and remain with some for export?
Government has a very good irrigation and investment master plan. It is a public document for interested players to see and approach governments to assist them invest in the sector. The plan runs from 2015 to 2020 and requires $2.4 billion to be implemented and increase the national irrigation area by 116 thousand hectares. For your information, the current total Irrigation area is 104 thousand hectares out of the potential 408 thousand hectares. This is where you find the Green Belt Projects, construction of dams and the pending multi-billion kwacha Shire Valley Project which is going to completely revolutionise our irrigation sector.
Why has it taken the country so long to come up with such a master plan when we have had the fresh water lake all along; turning ourselves into a continental laughing stock in the process?
It is not like Malawi has always been in such circumstances; history tells us that we have also been better and managed to assist other nations including Zimbabwe. The plan is there to harmonise and provide information on what already exists and is not known to the people. We have so many irrigation schemes in the country that have been doing well, except now that we are having climatic challenges and most of these schemes were depending on gravity fed system which has been challenged now. Above all, there is time for everything and room for improvement.
What other roles can the private sector play to ensure the country attains food security?
The private sector must go beyond buying commodities from our hardworking farmers at cheap prices and start producing on their own. Most of them shun this because agriculture is not cheap business; it takes risk takers. Government will not allow the private sector to continue “stealing from our farmers” but will assist them to invest profitably in agriculture.
If they produce on their own and not buy maize that was subsidised by taxpayers money, why prevent them from exporting? If government needs the maize why not buy from them at better prices? It is also our wish to make sure Admarc goes to the market first with good prices and make sure farmers benefit. Government also needs support from the private sector.