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Malawi needs a G.W Carver

Malawi is a land of natural resources abundant enough to be made the basis of industrial and agricultural wealth. But for decades Malawi has been classified as one of the poorest countries.

Some of the countries which 50 years ago were poorer and less promising by way of economic transformation have more than overtaken Malawi and are now approaching the status of the developed world.

In a nutshell, what can we say is responsible for the transformation of the country’s economy?

Transformation takes place through people, as groups and as individuals. These people can be placed into two categories, the first is the group that has the ability to organise manpower and resources or materials. They are referred to as managers entrepreneurs and administrators.

The second is that which has the technical and scientific knowledge and can apply it to make the transformation. They are called varieties of names: engineers, doctors, scientists, technicians. They work best where the first group has set up a sound organisational structure.

Malawi’s economy has slowed to grow because of deficiencies in both groups. Cashgate activities could not have taken place over a long period without being detected if the civil service was in the hands of capable and honest administrators.

Though Malawi can boast of graduates in all branches of science she has not yet produced a George Washington Carver of Alabama USA. The rest of the article is about this man who ought to be a role model for Malawi’s scientists.

Booker T. Washington, principal of the Tuskegee Institute and Carver’s boss uttered memorable words that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.

George Washington Carver’s struggles started with being born a slave of a white man called Moses Carver. In those days a slave was classified as three quarters of a human being. At the end of the American civil war he was told he was no longer a slave. He decided to remain with his former owner as an employee.

Meanwhile he managed to obtain grade school education while working for various employers as a labourer, cook and household servant. He went on learning till he obtained a high school education.

During high school he used to score at least 90 percent marks in every subject except geometry and arithmetic where his marks were next to zero. His teachers noted that he had keen interest in scientific subjects. They advised him to concentrate on the subjects he did better and leave out the others. He took that advice and qualified for admission to the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Art.

Though he was studying together with white boys he was not allowed to sit and eat with them at the same table. In 1894 he obtained his B.Sc. (Bachelor of Science) degree. He then joined the faculty of the Tuskegee Institute (nowadays university) Alabama as director of agriculture research, a post he fulfilled the rest of his life. His original intention was to help poor black sharecroppers. But soon he found himself revolutionising the whole economy of the southern states of America which had all along relied on the cotton crop. This crop had now depleted the soil.

Through his research he succeeded in improving the entire economy of the south by teaching crop rotation as well as by the development of 300 by-products from the peanut, soya bean and sweet potato.

From the peanut came such products as flour, ink, dyes, soap, peanut butter and so on. From the sweet potato he derived products such as flour, vinegar molasses and even a synthetic rubber.

Apart from teaching cotton farmers how they could restore soil fertility by planting crops like peanuts and soya beans, he taught them to recycle cotton waste itself.

His achievements were first recognised in London, England where in 1916 he was elected a fellow of the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts Manufacturers and Commerce.

In 1919 he was awarded the Roosevelt Medel. In 1941 he donated his life savings of $33,000 to establish the Carver foundation for the continuation of the researches.

Two types of research ought to be undertaken by our scientists if the Malawi economy is to be drastically improved. New uses must be found for the tobacco crop. Harassing buyers to offer better prices is a short term reprieve from the death sentence imposed on the tobacco industry by the World Health Organisation.

We have a variety of crops. Can’t scientists here do what Carver did by finding other uses for maize, pulses, potatoes and cassava?

The time for feeling good and great having obtained a Ph.D by thesis is gone. Now we must obtain extra Ph.Ds for innovation and inventions.

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