By David Mtawali:
Perhaps the most popular talking point of the current national budget has been the inclusion of funding for football stadiums for the country’s oldest, most polarizing and most popular football teams.
This has been received with mixed reactions; while others have applauded the move as being in the right direction, others are horrified considering the serious shortages of funds for resources in the education and health sectors.
Their argument is that since education and health are key indicators of human development, allocating government resources to private football teams is the highest case of misplaced priorities in the budget. For others, like me, the K35.5bn farm input subsidy programme (FISP) fund is the lowest point about the budget.
It is not that food production is not important, rather, using an approach that has failed to yield desired results for close to 10 years running is the problem. The K35bn benefiting 900,000 people loosely translates to about K40,000 (without the overhead and administrative costs) per person which could be enough to purchase some farm inputs; but not enough for a smallholder farmer to withstand environmental shocks that would affect the yield.
Alternatively, K35bn (about 47 million dollars), used to manage large scale production of maize would be adequate to purchase inputs, manage the production processes, enhance resilience from environmental shocks; and produce yield that would carter for the said part of the population, and even more.
Or maybe government would have shifted the resources and effort to promote crops that are more resilient to the weather than maize is. The best part of changing the approach would be its influence on the market prices of available food crops; but that’s a discussion for another day.
Perhaps, another major talking point should have been on the agenda to promote alternative energy sources. This is a big step in the right direction. Without bringing in the arguments related to climate change or deforestation, there still are many rewards with clean energy.
In the Finance Minister’s own words, the aim is to complement hydropower. Because the current generation capacity cannot fully meet the demand, increasing the number of sources will help fill the energy budget deficit. Adopting alternative energy sources would be like building another hydropower plant.
In addition, the energy sources promoted in this agenda do not require construction of sophisticated infrastructure. Solar energy systems and gas systems require movable size items to operate. This means that to adopt either of these would be a shorter wait than having a new hydropower plant or trees to mature for charcoal production.
Furthermore, solar energy in particular, is a ubiquitous resource that is renewable every day. Studies have shown that the potential solar power yield in Malawi is 2000kilowatt hours per square metre; that translates to over K80, 000 worth of electricity each year. Per square metre.
It is, therefore, a good time to make a move towards adopting these alternative energy sources. Firstly, because it is good for you; as a consumer. In that way, if Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi fails, you always have a backup source.
Secondly, it is a good time because you will get to enjoy the government incentives that are currently applicable. Remember, government is also introducing a carbon tax; which means generators may also be subject to some tax on every litre of fuel used.
Thirdly, clean energy sources are clean. No smoke. Good for the health of your household members. Good for the walls and surfaces in your house.
It may get even better, as studies exploring the possibility of feeding into the national grid from solar microgeneration have been done before and it would mean extra income for those who are able to produce more power than they need.
Now indeed is a good time for households to analyse their energy needs and explore the options that would work best for them.
Now is a good time for property owners to add value (not increase rent) to their properties with an assurance of power all day, every day indeed.
Universities are already training experts, even to Masters Level, in renewable energies. Vocational training schools are also training technicians in installation and maintenance of solar and other clean energy systems. Government has already established an enabling environment.
What remains, and matters most, is for the citizens to make their choice. Now is a good time to gear up towards clean energy sources.