Climate change, government management pose challenges in agriculture-dependent Malawi

Agriculture is the mainstay of Malawi’s economy, contributing 30% of gross domestic product (GDP) and employing a majority of the country’s workforce (World Bank, 2016).  Malawi has also been classified as one of Southern Africa’s most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change due to its heavy dependence on rain-fed agriculture and susceptibility to floods and droughts. Malawian citizens are clearly aware of their vulnerability, consistently ranking “food shortage and famine” as the most important problem that government should address. Successive Malawian governments have prioritized interventions aimed at bolstering food security, including the implementation of fertilizer input subsidies targeting smallholder farmers (Chinsinga &Poulton, 2014).

The 2017 Afrobarometer survey shows that the effects of climate change have been felt by an overwhelming majority of Malawians. Most citizens say that droughts have become more severe and climate conditions for agricultural production have worsened. More Malawians are going without enough food and without a cash income. Perhaps in response, popular ratings of the government’s performance have declined sharply – not surprising in a country where positive ratings of government performance are correlated with improvements in food security (Ferree & Horowitz, 2010). A majority of citizens don’t see the government’s fertilizer subsidy program as an adequate answer and prefer that it be scrapped.

Given the centrality of agriculture to Malawi’s economy, these survey findings raise concerns about the viability of current agricultural policies and responses to climate change for food security and the economy as a whole.

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Investigating government debt in agriculture

In Malawi, NASFAM (The National Association of SmallHolder Farmers in Malawi) commissioned an investigation on government debt in agriculture. The findings were presented in Lilongwe on 3 June 2017 to an audience of CSOs and parliamentary committee members. The study found that over the past decade (2005/06 to 2014/15) an estimated amount of USD 321.9 Million, representing 18% of the total national debt stock as of 2015, has been spent on the key investment projects in irrigation. The findings from the site verification exercise reveals that of all the twelve (12) sampled projects, eleven (11) have been concluded or had wound‐up, while one is being implemented. However, it was evident that most projects had concluded despite experiencing challenges during implementation.

The most common challenges noted included; late maintenance of schemes, poor construction of water canals, siltation of dams, insufficient irrigation equipment, lack of technological expertise, poor project design, land degradation, and flooding. Projects were also negatively affected by the unpredictability and time lapses in the disbursement of funds. Additionally, farmers often lacked sufficient information on project financing, making it difficult for them to properly plan and undertake tasks. Poor financial record keeping and information management systems also jeopardised transparency and accountability, as well as made it difficult to match the spent resources with the resultant project outcomes. There is no clear evidence on the reinforcement of quality assurance measures for project design and execution.

Despite the challenges, the projects appear to have contributed greatly to the development of the agriculture sector and the smallholder communities. Benefits include improved livelihoods of the smallholder farmers, establishment of reliable irrigation facilities, increased new farming technologies, increased market networks, and improved skills and outputs in animal and crop husbandry. Women were seen as being the largest beneficiaries in most projects visited (50.2% of the total intended beneficiaries). However, on the quality of appropriation of benefits by the various gender groups; women tended to benefit more on the social related benefits like improved housing, food security and decreased school dropouts, while men benefited most from economic benefits like new farming technologies; access to farm inputs and access to loans cash and inputs. Youth were greatly marginalised in accessing project benefits, in particular, the girl child.

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Malawi’s plans for major electoral reform are way overdue

Malawi is set for a major overhaul of its winner-takes-all electoral system with far-reaching implications for the country, if ongoing efforts to reform the system bear fruit.

Any changes in the voting system will represent the biggest overhaul of the country’s electoral system since it became a multiparty state in the mid 1990s. This followed the end of one-party dictatorship under Kamuzu Banda, the country’s first post-colonial leader and “president for life”.

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