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Open Perspective: Civility and humility my honourable minister

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On a flight to Addis enroute to London recently, I was quite excited to write this counter-position to what Honourable Allan Chiyembekeza said about ‘irrigation campaigners’
with whom he is clearly unhappy.

Bravo to all irrigation and green belt campaigners! The leaders are reading, thinking and reflecting on the voice of patriotic citizens who want Malawi out of grinding poverty
and demeaning dependency.

To the minister, the campaigners are uninformed, dull and funny thinkers. They are ungrateful finger pointers with little or no knowledge of what irrigation takes.

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Unfair, uncalled for and selfdestructive indictment of innocent citizens! For advice, minister, civility and humility are social imperatives for men in elected leadership.

I for one take no offence at all. I never mind making errors around issues I hold firm convictions about, more so if clever politicians can correct the vision. What I won’t do
is shut up believing that politicians are in control.

I have become a lot wiser lately. Politicians are never ever in control, much worse governments not exactly know transparency, responsiveness and accountability.

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Take it from me, Malawians won’t leave matters of policy and development of this country in the hands of politicians driven by party aligned agenda, discarding the logic of
comprehensive peopleled strategy.

Without critical public participation Malawi risks drifting away from the basic and essential. And that has to be prevented through free speech. Who knew government would not
deliver on financial reforms?

In matters agriculture, I would never question the wisdom of Malawians. I know they have always been farmers. For over 80 percent of them, agriculture is work, bread and butter.
To me their collective knowledge, skills and faith exceeds the exotic science of specialists.

Thousands in Chikwawa and Nsanje have mastered irrigation over generations.

Consistently, positive thinking experts have argued that the two districts alone could feed the country all year round if Shire River was utilised for intensive irrigation and
grow incomes.

At the 11th and 12th National Agriculture Fairs, government spelt out its policy on irrigation.

President Peter Mutharika said ‘with climate change the future of the agriculture sector is dependent on irrigation in different localities along Lake Malawi and perennial
rivers’

And remember minister you said in order to deal with over reliance on rain-fed agricultural production systems government has taken the measures to revive the GBI which aims to
intensify irrigation farming in different localities ‘along the Lake Malawi and the perennial rivers’.

If the land along Lake Malawi is bad why are leaders consistently making such reference?

The campaigners’ arguments are for rapid development and commercialisation of both rainfed and irrigation agriculture by private investors. And of course to free the land needed
people must move with compensation.

We are not going to sacrifice development to avoid a legal requirement, no matter how expensive. Government moves and compensates whole villages to build better roads and
schools; it’s a matter of value and priority.

You are right minister irrigation is a private sector enterprise, but farmers are private. No one says irrigation must be bankrolled by government. How would that depart from
the infamous fisp? Incidentally Malawi is capitalist, not communist.

Just to remind you minister, much earlier in 2010 deputy agriculture minister Margaret Mauwa said ‘our interest is small farmers. We will group them and we believe that will
create ownership of the irrigation schemes’.

So you see, the preoccupation with small farmers is within government – your DPP government!

But hid this expert warning: there is a danger in romanticising smallholder’s role in poverty reduction, says Richard Mkandawire. Subsidies only cushion poverty. There’s real
danger of simply patronising poverty instead of reducing it.

This is a standard argument to which the irrigation campaigners religiously subscribe. Our position is not based on whims. We are supporting government policy by pointing out
obvious fault lines.

I must stress that Malawians are neither dull nor funny. Nor are they pointing fingers. Far from it, Malawians are simply advancing alternative development policy, not placing
government in bad light. Trust me, none means any harm.

Yes irrigation is capital and technology intensive, but this is not reason enough for further delay in policy implementation. Intensify marketing the idea. If you ask me, I have
no doubt there are investors out there waiting to grab any opportunities.

What Malawians are doing is participating in development and timeous implementation of viable existing and or alternative policy. The campaigners are free agents taking
legitimate part in the governance of a democratic country, alongside the people they hired to show the way.

My advice is that rather than always being on the back foot, government should look at such discourse as a source of ideas.

‘Crowd knowledge’ has a place in policy debates and should never ever be silenced by litanies of excuses and accusations. Zimenezo iyayi!

This is there as on I unreservedly agree with Hon Felix Jumbe for offering alternative policy being an alternative government. Yes I agree with the danger of tunnel thinking,
the practised parochialism of associating agriculture with food and feeding poor people.

Agriculture is a whole lot more! Foremost it is the natural frontline industry that has created all the economies that we envy today, because the leaders worked with and
listened to the people.

Hon Felix Jumbe is right that government has failed to think big for people to follow. Present thinking is not only at odds with prospects for commercialization and balance
between rain-fed and irrigation agriculture, it is so dangerously retrogressive it could lock Malawians in poverty for much longer.

Last, here is your real liberation from the present tunnel thinking: Stop politicising maize. Stop using maize as political bait. Stop riding on the broken backs of poor
voiceless people. Government will be respected for taking a decision on this matter. Further delay will have dire political consequences.

Well, isn’t that the beauty of democracy, that what one government fails to do an alternative one accomplishes.

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