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Let’s resume focus on serious business

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Now that President Peter Mutharika is back from his controversial trip to the United States of America, it is time for all of us as Malawians to resume focus on serious productivity matters concerning our country.

With the onset of the rain season very close, agriculture is certainly one of the most important things Malawians can put their attention and energy on.

President Mutharika should be the first one to lead the nation on this one. Malawi’s founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda prioritised agriculture and used the sector to develop Malawi socially and economically. And this was well reflected in both his rhetoric and actions.

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Kamuzu found space in his public speeches to call on the people to “work hard in the field” while crop inspection tours were a permanent feature in his annual calendar of undertakings.

He was personally involved in farming through Press Agriculture and his other business ventures and his ministers and senior public sector officials too were allowed to privately invest in farming.

Mutharika should take some time to inspire farmers into production while ensuring that his government is making the right and timely decisions on agriculture.

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Malawi’s reform agenda cannot be meaningful without also looking at what is required to modernise agriculture, which remains the country’s dominant economic sector.

As Malawi continues to seek answers to the hard economic problems facing the country, there is probably no shorter term measure that can provide quicker answers to the country other than agriculture.

Strategic focus and investment in agriculture now could bring results to the country within the next six months.

Reading what Minister of Finance, Goodall Gondwe, told the media recently, the government is largely banking on a good agricultural season for the recovery and stabilisation of the economy next year.

But it remains to be seen as to what exactly will be done differently in agriculture by the government to enable the sector to support the local economy beyond the ordinary. There are obviously several critical things that need to be done by the government to support transformation in agriculture and boost the sector’s contribution to the economy.

For example, Malawi is yet to enact some critical policies to support the implementation of the National Export Strategy (NES) in which various actions for the diversification of exports were clearly outlined.

Three years after the NES was rolled out, Malawi continues to depend on tobacco and a few other traditional crops for its exports while other commodities that were identified for increased production remain unsupported.

While farmers and the private sector have responded to the NES by venturing into the production, trading and export of crops such as pigeon peas, soya and others, government is yet to do its part in terms of some critical measures aimed at protecting the crops.

As a result, farmers continue to be exploited through low prices for the crops while the economy is not receiving full foreign exchange earnings from the exports of the crops as smuggling, transfer-pricing and under-declaration are still the order of the day in the export of these crops.

While Mozambique has already signed an agreement with India for the export of pigeon peas, Malawi is still engaged in never-ending discussions with Indian officials on a proposed similar agreement for the country, yet planting time for the crops is just few weeks away.

Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign exchange earnings from exports of pigeon pea, soya, groundnuts and others continue to go unaccounted for while our friends in Mozambique are on the ground preparing fields for hyper production of crops for export to India next year.

It is, therefore, important for the Malawi Government to quickly regroup, reorganise itself and get back to serious business of national importance. Time is always of essence and some matters simply require urgent attention by the President and his government.

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