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Expert faults lopsided agriculture policies

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One of the country’s economic experts has described Malawi as an agro-based economy that cannot do agriculture.

Professor Ronald Mangani said this in a presentation delivered at the just ended 2020 Economics Association of Malawi annual conference held under the theme ‘Going Beyond Macroeconomic Stabilisation: The Need for Building Resilience to External Shocks’.

The former secretary to the Treasury described Malawi as a country that concentrates more on farm input subsidies than it invests in agriculture research.

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He noted that it was puzzling that some Malawians did not realise that rains and lake water had the same chemical formula: H2O.

“You see water flowing through Lake Malawi into [the] Shire River, exported for free before the Zambezi River dumps it into the Indian Ocean and you find the next day people are praying for rains in Mangochi,” Mangani said.

He said mindset change way key to turning around agriculture fortunes in the country.

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“What falls down as rain is water, chemical formula H2O. Madzi! Madzi! Madzi [water! Water! Water!]. We can use that water to irrigate our land. Over 400,000 to 600,000 hectares of land in Malawi are suitable for irrigation but we are only irrigating 16 to 20 percent of it. Madzi!” Mangani said.

Mangani said it was high time Malawi utilised irrigation technologies such as Shadoof, which was in fashion years before Jesus Christ was born.

Food and Agriculture Organisation indicates that Shadoof entails the use of a pole with a bucket and counterpoise, further indicating that it is used for raising water.

Contributing to the debate during the panel discussion, Reserve Bank of Malawi Director of Economic Policy Research Kisukyabo Simwaka said Malawi had the potential to irrigate land of up to about 20 kilometres from the shores of water bodies.

Simwaka said irrigation was one of the areas that could have a high impact on agriculture productivity.

While acknowledging Mangani’s observations, National Planning Commission Director General Thomas Munthali said the new long-term vision that Malawi was crafting placed emphasis on inclusive worth creation and self-reliance.

He further said enhanced agriculture productivity, as espoused in the new blueprint, would feed into Malawi’s industrialisation drive.

Speaking when he opened the conference, Vice- President Saulos Chilima challenged the country’s economists to cultivate and nurture new sources of economic growth.

Chilima said it was critical for Malawians to find answers as to where resilient and sustainable economic growth would come from.

This year’s farm inputs programme, known as Affordable Input Programme (AIP), has riled smallholder farmers, who lament that they stand on queues for hours on end due to telecommunications’ network challenges.

Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture Chairperson Sameer Suleman recently faulted the government for implementing AIP at once.

“The problem is that this system was rolled out on a national scale without being piloted anywhere. We should have just gone with the coupon system with just a little tightening here and there— with few selected districts using this system as a pilot phase.

AIP has replaced the Farm Input Subsidy Programme and targets 4,279,100 farming households.

Under the programme, farmers are accessing two bags of fertiliser at K4,495 each and a pack of maize seeds at K2,000

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