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Food lessons for Kenya from Malawi

NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 10 – After successfully implementing a subsidy programme that has enabled it to produce bumper maize yields, Malawi has now set its sights on becoming a net exporter of all kinds of food.

Malawi\’s Minister for Agriculture and Food Security Professor Peter Mwanza told Capital Business in Nairobi that the next step would be a more aggressive campaign to commercialise agriculture in addition to for instance deploying more extension service officers to the rural areas.

“We are not just aiming at food self-sufficiency, we are aiming at making agriculture a big business,” he said.

Ravaged by hunger which saw more than 40 percent of the country’s population face starvation, the Malawian government in 2005 decided to provide cheaper fertilizer and seeds – a move that paid off almost immediately.

The African country allocates about 14 percent budget to the sector, which has not only increased maize production but raised the living standards of millions of small-scale farmers.

In turn, its economy has been boosted recording an average of 6.5 percent over the last few years while managing to reduce its poverty levels by more than 12 basis points to 40 percent.

Despite this success however, the subsidy programme has been criticised as having the potential to distort the market, a complaint that Mr Mwanza acknowledges adding that his government has an exit strategy that it plans to execute in due course.

“We are hoping that this will have a developmental effect and people are going to become more prosperous and therefore be able to help themselves. There may be an exit strategy of some kind but it will not be premature,” the minister stated.

This model has been recommended for many other African countries that are struggling to feed their people although many of them still spend less on agriculture which has been touted as the backbone of their economies.

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Kenya for instance spends less than five percent of its national budget on the sector despite being a signatory to the Maputo Declaration that proposes the allocation of 10 percent of the budget to agriculture and many other agricultural programs.

It has been left to import grain from Malawi, Tanzania and other nations when faced with a shortage as happened back in 2009, a situation that it’s keen to reverse given the few programs that it has implemented over the last few months.

Last month for example, President Mwai Kibaki launched the Agricultural Sector Development Strategy and signed Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program that are aimed at increasing the country’s agricultural growth to seven percent per annum over the next five years.

It has been argued that the successful implementation of such measures coupled with political commitment can enable the continent to become a food exporter and even delay the introduction of the genetically modified foods which has received opposition from certain quarters.

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