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Why is Malawi facing acute food shortages?

Publisert . Skrevet av Knut Andersen

Malawian agriculture is facing several challenges. More coordination between the different stakeholders is needed for a better future writes The Development Funds Country Director in Malawi, Knut Andersen.

At the latest agricultural fair in Malawi a great range of solutions for boosting the countries agricultural production were on display. Then why is the country still facing acute food shortages?

This article was published in The Daily Times in Malawi, September 6. 2013.

A couple of days ago, I attended the National Agricultural Fair in Blantyre. This has become a yearly event where stakeholders from the government, private sector and civil society showcase their services, products and ideas. This year, there were more stands than ever before with more private companies, NGOs and government departments displaying a great range of agricultural interventions, solutions and products that could boost agricultural production and rural household income in Malawi.

However, looking at these stands with all their good innovations and offerings, which should ensure a prosperous and blossoming agricultural sector, begs one to ask a number of questions. Such as:

- How come Malawi is facing acute food shortages?
- How come most small scale farmers are still struggling to feed their families with nutritious food?
- How come the income realized from farming is so low that most families in the rural areas cannot afford to let their children finish secondary school?
- How come small-scale farmers cannot sell their agricultural products and receive a fair and profitable price for these?
- How come that most food commodities, both processed and raw products, we find in Malawian shops come from outside the country, even if the same could be produced locally here in Malawi?

Slow progress

I asked myself these questions and I trust that these are some of the questions that other people attending the agricultural fair asked themselves. These are some of the questions I also hope that the government, donors and ordinary Malawians ask themselves. How come, with all the efforts put into the agricultural sector, from so many stakeholders for so many years, are we still facing the same challenges to livelihoods as we faced 20, 30 and even 50 years ago?

I honestly believe that most of the stakeholders, both at this year’s agricultural fair and in the daily work within the sector, want to see an improvement in the lives of the Malawian people. It is an undeniable fact that most Malawians are farmers; most Malawians live in the rural areas and support their families through farming.

So, when we have a number of stakeholders including Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture with all the different Departments within the Ministry (crops, fisheries, research and forestry), Ministry of Water and Irrigation, Ministry of Local Government and other Ministries say they want to improve the livelihoods of the small scale farmers in Malawi, then how come the progress is still so slow?

When the donors, from Norway, Ireland, US, UK, Germany, EU et cetera contributes significant amounts towards developing the agricultural sector, then how come the progress is still so slow?

When the private sector is aggressively promoting chemical fertilizers, improved seeds, herbicides and pesticides, how come the progress is still so slow?

When we in the civil society, with numerous NGOs, both international and national, implement all our programs in the agricultural sector, how come the progress is still so slow?

Is the progress slow because all of the stakeholders, including my own organization, are doing things wrongly? Is the progress slow because we work in isolation of each other rather than being willing to collaborate, align and learn from one another? Is the progress slow because the development resources (funds) are not ending up where they are supposed to end up

All of these questions should be asked as they are fundamental questions which we owe the farmers of Malawi to discuss, reflect upon and try to answer together.

Must work together

Based on our answers, deliberate actions should be taken to move from the slow progress we see in the agricultural sector today, towards a situation which ensures that farmers in Malawi have enough food on their table all year round. A situation where farmers can produce enough food to guarantee both their own household food security and generate cash through sale. A situation where the farmers can realize enough money from their farm products to have a proper house, to see all their children through secondary school education and be able to afford health care as and when needed. A situation where Malawi can start up processing industry for farm products so that we all can buy Malawian products in our shops.

I am of the opinion that to achieve this we all have to work together in a more coordinated and complimentary way than we do today. We need to set aside the attitude of “we know best” and instead engage in a joint effort for Malawi and the agricultural sector. I believe that then, and only then, can great results be achieved. Through collaboration and strategic partnerships can we assist millions of Malawian farmers to prosper and obtain self-sustaining livelihood.

Knut Andersen, Country Director in Malawi for The Development Fund

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