Malawi needs to undertake institutional and structural reforms in agriculture to accelerate the pace of development taking place in the sector. In this three-part analysis, agricultural policy and development expert TAMANI NKHONO-MVULA gives insight on what ought to be done for the sector to turn a corner:
Over the past 20 years, the agriculture sector in Malawi has been embroiled in a transformation discourse as our agriculture is trying to catch up with the wave of change happening in much of sub-Saharan region.
Malawi’s and most of African countries’ agriculture policies and institutional frameworks have been aligning themselves to the principles of the AU/Nepad Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (Caadp).
The question, however, that we may have is: why is Malawi’s agriculture sector not performing yet it is being guided by the same principles that guide our neighbouring countries?
At the same time, Malawi has been hailed as a star performer when it comes to consistently allocating more than 10 percent of its national budget to agriculture.
My view is that one of the reasons our agriculture is not performing—as may be the case with any development initiative—is the institutional and structural environment in which it is being implemented.
Malawi agriculture sector needs serious structural reforms to bring out the best we always hope for.
Over the next three weeks I would like to share my thoughts on some of the institutional and structural reforms that agriculture in Malawi needs to undertake to accelerate the pace of development taking place in the sector.
However, before I outline some of these areas, I would like to provide the context on how the interface between agriculture and politics has affected agriculture development in Malawi.
In my view, the foundational bottleneck towards agriculture development and transformation in Malawi, has been the lack of proper management of the political economy issues surrounding investments and coordination of the institutions and structures of government on agriculture development in the country.
It has to be noted further that most of these institutional challenges have been and still are beyond the mandate of the Ministry of Agriculture to fully address. They may, therefore, need a higher authority to follow up and push for commitment from the traditionally non-agriculture but strategic stakeholders to play their part.
The MCP/Tonse Alliance manifesto has outlined a number of areas that it would like to concentrate on as the government undertakes its drive to transform agriculture in the country.
Broadly, the manifesto has outlined policy interventions around production and productivity enhancement issues, markets and marketing issues, agriculture services and cross cutting issues.
These issues are being raised against a backdrop of failure and unsustained transformation of the sector despite the similar numerous attempts that the state and its stakeholders have done in the past years.
Some of the issues that the current government needs to learn from that have choked sector transformation are the following:
Political interest in food security
Food security and its related interventions in agriculture in Malawi have been at the centre of political contestations in the multiparty era to the extent that all governments that have been voted into power in this era have done so at the promise of a guaranteed food security to the electorate.
As much as that could not be a problem as food is a basic need and its access a human right but the obvious desperation to please the electorate in readiness for the next general election has led to short termism in programing for agriculture development.
Most high profile interventions have mainly aimed at providing quick-fix solutions to immediate food security challenges and these have undermined important elements for long term transformation of the sector.
At times there has been a diversion of resources from other equally important subsectors to fund these programs.
Programmes such as the Presidential Initiative on Hunger and Food Security under the Peoples Party (PP) administration and Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) initially started by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration, all started on a premise of addressing the systemic bottleneck to food production and availability.
However, the success of these programmes, most especially, the Fisp in its first five years, gave a relative advantage to the incumbent at the polls, as such from then onwards; the issues of input subsidies have been a central political campaign message.
It has been noted that agricultural initiatives that start from a political podium usually have undermined long term growth and development of the sector.
There is need, therefore, that campaign messages that the MCP/Tonse Alliance gave to the people must not only provide immediate solutions but also enhance the implementation of long term programs for the eradication of hunger, poverty and malnutrition in the country.
There will be a need to create that structural linkages so that the drive to implement the MCP manifesto is not a hindrance to the rhythm of implementation of the mainstream policies of the sector. Heightened political interest in agriculture can be a catalyst for transformation but it can also put spanners in the wheels of progress.
Failure of Aswap
In 2006, the government came up with an idea of developing the Agriculture Sector-wide Approach (Aswap) as a coordination framework for the investments into the agriculture sector.
The Aswap combined the aspirations of the Caadp and the principles of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and local policies in the agriculture sector.
The Aswap attempted to provide a structure that could oversee proper harmonisation of investment and also mutual accountability of the actors within the sector.
Platforms like the Joint Sector Reviews (JSR), Sector Working Groups (SWG) and the Technical Working Groups (TWG) were established.
However, these platforms and the aspirations of the Aswap have not been fully met due to, among others, lack of commitment from other sector players to fully participate but also the failure of the Ministry of Agriculture to fully reform and give others much space to participate in the activities of the agriculture sector.
Currently, the Ministry of Agriculture still remains the regulator and the biggest single implementer of programmes in the sector with no substantive division of labour among the players in the sector.
The National Agriculture Policy which is being implemented through this structure, its timeframe will be expiring this year (2020).
Among the targets of this policy was increasing agriculture output of major crops like maize by 100 percent, increasing value of export agricultural output by 50 percent, increasing number of agricultural technologies by 60 percent, among others.
Today as we speak, nothing of this sort has taken place as the conducive environment to attain such a transformation was not provided for.
The process of the much-needed functional review of the ministry will requires a huge political will to deal with all the elements of resistance to move forward.
Additionally, there will be a need for the ministry to start thinking of expanding its portfolios like creating a separate directorate of marketing, giving much autonomy to other sections like the Seed Services Unit and restructuring other departments like that of livestock.
NGOs and private sector role
The other issue compromising effective coordination within the sector is unclear lines of accountability in the implementation of projects supporting the National Agriculture Investment Plan (NAIP), especially, those done by the NGOs.
The NGOs working in the agriculture sector claim to be implementing their activities in line with the NAIP but these NGOs are not accountable to government in terms of how much funds they are investing into the sector or to which pillar of NAIP they are allocating the resources.
There is a huge amount of resources supposedly being spent in the agriculture sector by NGOs. However, the government is mostly unaware of the amount of funds being spent by the NGOs in the sector as there is no tracking mechanism for such.
The NGOs remain accountable only to their donors and not to government. At the same time most of the NGOs though claiming to be implementing their activities in line with government policy in the sector, are not aware of the NAIP monitoring and evaluation framework and as to which NAIP indicators their projects are contributing.
This kind of situation has unfortunately led, in part to the little long term impact that most of the NGOs make despite reportedly spending huge amounts of resources.
NGOs usually leave behind little or no trace of development and transformation of the communities they serve. However, this situation has been created in part by own ministry’s failure to reform but also by allowing NGOs to freely work in the sector without proper MOUs with the ministry.
The ministry needs to develop a framework for accountability for the NGOs in the sector as this will ensure proper planning and implementation of activities.