Michael Sauka, the man who won the first prize in a competition to compose the Malawi National Anthem, was not wrong to write thus:
‘Our own Malawi, this land so fair, fertile and brave and free. With its lakes, refreshing mountain air, how greatly blest are we. Hills and valleys, soil so rich and rare, give us a bounty free. Wood and forest, plains so broad and fair, All-beauteous Malawi.’
We, still enjoying the cool weather and the rains here in Bvumbwe, Thyolo, are not sure though that this land, our Malawi, is fair. But that we are blest and have fertile land, plenty of fresh water and refreshing mountain cannot be disputed. For the two weeks we have been here we have cogitated on why we are food and nutrition insecure in such natural bounty.
Our cogitation led us to the conclusion that we are our own causes of our own situation and predicament. We dismissed other popular perceptions that we are food and nutrition insecure because of climate change and natural disasters. If natural disasters, such as floods, were the causes of food poverty, Japan, the USA, Mexico, and Indonesia would have been the food-poorest in the world.
We equally dismissed low rainfall as the cause of our food poverty. If low or complete lack of rain was an issue, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and even Namibia would have already perished. The rain that falls there in a year cannot even fill Lake Chilingali in Nkhotakota, or Chintheche lagoon in Nkhata Bay.
We have, therefore, resolved to agree with Amatyr Sen that, in the absence wars, our problems are self-created. Our poverty, our food and nutrition insecurity are self-imposed. Corruption and unimplemented policies, lack of mechanisation, you name others, are some of the causes. Our beggar mentality and wild-bird beliefs worsen the situation. Our perception of farming as a task for the illiterate, uneducated, poor rural folk is the last nail in our coffin.
To get out of this food and nutrition quagmire, we propose starting with arming our youth.
The youth of Malawi are the future of agriculture, food and nutrition insecurity. Like all youths in the world, they have the energy, dreams and innovative ideas about the kind of life they want to live.
Let’s listen to them. Let’s genuinely engage them. We recently read an article online and Professor Abiti Dr Joyce Befu, MG 66 and MEGA-1, has directed that we share its contents with all those who care about engaging Malawian youth productively.
The article, Nine ways to engage youth in agriculture, first appeared in 2014 in Can we Feed the World.
To properly and productively engage the youth, the article proposes, we must link social media to agriculture or vice versa. Today’s youths in Malawi and Africa in general spend more time online and social media are their best source of information. The abundance of ICT and ICT services are an opportunity to engage the youth using the tools they are familiar with. Radio is good but it may not necessarily cater to our tech-savvy youth.
We must improve the image of agriculture to make it attractive to the youth in primary schools, secondary schools, universities and colleges so that they grow seeing agriculture as something worth venturing into. Let’s strengthen agriculture at all levels of our education system in Malawi.
Let’s have agriculture as a compulsory subject in primary and secondary school. It is pleasing that some universities and colleges have already started mainstreaming agriculture in their curricula.
Let’s empower youths to speak up and hear them out on how agriculture can be repositioned into a money maker
The youth must be given fellow youths as role model farmers that have made it in and because of agriculture. Rose Chisowa, a BA Journalism graduate from the Polytechnic, University of Malawi, is one such young woman that could be enrolled to preach the ‘Agriculture is Money’ gospel.
The government, NGOs and others must involve the youth in policy making and facilitate their access to land and credit. Bank loan policies should be changed to allow for risky borrowers. Currently money lending is elitist and age-restrictive. Even worse, interest rates are prohibitive.
If youths continue associating agriculture with poor rural old people scratching the land with pre-Jesus tools, they will not get anywhere near the farm.