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On the saddle: Something for the farmer in State of the Nation Address

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President Peter Mutharika last Friday delivered a State-of-the-nation Address at the opening of the budge meeting of Parliament under the theme: ‘Towards Recovery and Sustainable Socio-economic Development’.

In the address, the president mentioned that agriculture remains one of the key priorities for his government because of its significance to our economy. He said, therefore, that the government continues to place highest priority on the sector to ensure both national and household food security as well as support agro-industries.

He admitted, however, that Malawi’s economic performance has been influenced by shocks caused by pressures from the rising food prices, exacerbated by low production of maize in the 2015 growing season due to floods, dry spells and early cessation of rain in most parts of the country.

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These, he said, negatively affected crop production including maize, the staple food, whose harvest declined by 12.4 percent in the 2015/16 growing season, from about 2.8 million metric tonnes in 2014/15 growing season to about 2.4 million metric tonnes in 2015/16.

As a result, the president said Malawi will this year once more experience a shortage of food with over three million Malawians expected to be food insecure.

To address food shortages, Mutharika said government has provided Admarc with financial resources to procure maize soon after harvest to ensure that markets are fully stocked with commercial maize.

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Government has also invited interested private sector investors to undertake commercial irrigation farming in order to boost maize production beginning this year. The programme, said the president, will also involve medium-scale farmers and smallholder farmers to either utilise their existing irrigation facilities or rent unutilised irrigable land and that the government guarantees to buy the maize produced through the National Food Reserve Agency.

The government will also prioritise the development of dams and boreholes to reduce dependence on rain-fed agriculture.

The president also disclosed that the government will this year adopt the National Agriculture Policy, the National Irrigation Policy, National Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy, and the National Seed Policy and Bill in response to Malawi’s need for appropriate agricultural policies to guide the sector.

Mutharika also said the government continues to prioritise investment in the Greenbelt Initiative in order to increase productivity of selected high value crops and reported that construction of the irrigation infrastructure and the sugarcane factory in Salima were completed where a sugarcane nursery development is underway and planting on the 439 hectares will commence later this year.

Under the Greenbelt Initiative, Mutharika said government has an ongoing Land Management Contract with Malawi Mangoes limited where land has been provided to Malawi Mangoes for the production of bananas and mangoes.

The president also mentioned that government will continue supporting efforts to diversify agricultural production to more crops such as soya beans, pigeon peas and groundnuts seed, saying this is one area where the future of Malawi foreign exchange earnings lies.

He said as part of the diversification drive, government during the year supported cotton growers with about 670 metric tonnes of certified cotton seed on cash as well as a loan basis and inaugurated a third Cotton Ginnery for Admarc in Balaka.

The government also launched a $2.4 billion Irrigation Master Plan and Investment Framework to guide the expansion of the irrigation sub-sector by 116,000 hectares through the Shire Valley Irrigation, Bwanje Scheme expansion, Songwe River and Greenbelt Initiative Schemes.

The government, he said, completed construction of seven solar pump irrigation schemes covering an area of about 780 hectares under the Agriculture Infrastructure Support Project, and 150 hectares under the Climate Adaptation for Rural Livelihoods and Agriculture Project in Karonga, Neno, Chikhwawa and Nsanje;

There was also complete maintenance of old government irrigation schemes in Karonga, Nkhotakota and Machinga and over 400 hectares was developed for gravity fed irrigation in Blantyre, Thyolo and Phalombe districts.

According to Mutharika, over 4,000 treadle pumps were procured through the Malawi Flood Emergency Recovery Project funded by the World Bank and also undertook surveys and designs of the 30 damaged irrigation schemes.

The government implemented the Karonga and Malombe Rice Production and value addition project to irrigate 1,500 hectares for the production of rice to be processed, graded, branded and packaged for both local and export markets.

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