Malawi’s Constitution mandates the government to actively promote the welfare and development of Malawians through the progressive adoption and implementation of policies and legislation.
Economic management, rural development and education are among the 15 measurables of development, and according to the Constitution, successful government policies should be reflected in an improved quality of life in rural communities.
Why rural development?
More than half of Malawi’s poor people live in rural areas, while 19.2 percent live in urban areas. The Malawi Poverty Report 2020 put the rural ultra-poverty is 23.6 percent, while urban ultra-poverty is 3.3 percent.
According to Pathways to Prosperity in Rural Malawi, a book published by the World Bank in 2017, the escalating rural poverty in Malawi is attributed to low agricultural productivity, low and limited opportunities for nonfarm self-employment and low impacts of safety-net programmes.
With this, we cannot talk about meaningful national development while ignoring a segment of the population that is both the majority and in desperate need of economic assistance.
Sustainable rural development is critical to a country’s economic, social and environmental viability, including Malawi because poverty is overwhelmingly rural.
Low agricultural productivity can be attributed to overreliance on rain and a lack of technology use. On the other hand, safety nets appear ineffective because Malawi’s social programmes have low overall budgets in comparison with international standards.
While it is the government’s responsibility to create a favourable economic environment for all citizens, the transition to nonfarm self-employment is also dependent on how citizens are empowered.
Rural residents should be able to compete with their urban counterparts in business and employment.
Currently, a higher proportion of nonfarm jobs are in sectors such as finance, business services and public administration, which are scarce in rural areas. As a result, it is difficult for a rural person to start a business or engage in meaningful self-employment.
Access to financial services remains limited, owing to factors such as distance from financial institutions, among others. Even the most daring individuals do not reap the desired benefits due to the remoteness from roads.
In the long run, empowering rural youth (tomorrow’s leaders) through quality education is the way to go. It can be formal, entrepreneurial, vocational, or financial literacy education.
Education benefits individuals in terms of employment, earnings, health and poverty reduction, according to the World Bank. To a country, education drives long-term economic growth, stimulates innovation, strengthens institutions and promotes social cohesion in societies.
Yet at the moment, most students in rural areas walk long distances to and from schools. The quality of education received falls far short of expectations. Due to infrastructural challenges, there is a high rate of school dropout, particularly among girls.
They engage in farming or related activities to support their parents. The teacher-to-student ratio is high. Those who graduate to secondary school struggle to pay tuition fees.
Again, the Constitution mandates the government to provide adequate resources to the education sector and develop deliberate programs to eliminate illiteracy, among other things. It should ensure that schools, whether public or private, rural or urban, maintain acceptable standards.
This is why the government, non-governmental organizations, and individuals needed to invest heavily in rural youth education. They are not only in the majority, but they also face more challenges than their counterparts, as previously stated.
At individual level, we need role models and champions who can be awarding rural best-performing students with learning materials and school uniforms, among other things. Alumni groups can help to scale this up. Rural students require motivation and encouragement to attend and remain school. Those who make it to secondary school should also be supported.
As a result, we can be optimistic about Malawi becoming an inclusive, wealthy and self-sufficient nation.
Education is a certain way to achieve human capital development, which is enabler number five in Malawi 2063. Investing in a rural child’s education by creating a conducive environment is a worthwhile investment.
The author, an HR professional, is passionate about human development and currently runs the Maloto Anga Education Initiative, which targets rural schools