Friday, December 21, 2007

Malawi: On agriculture subsidies, climate change

Daily Times (Malawi), an editorial by David Mkambisi: My point of view is that the subsidy programme could be revisited to undertake an integrated approach to adaptation to climate change. Firstly, the programme could continue promoting maize production. This could be done through use of specific varieties that are multipurpose.

There is need to scrutinise the maize varieties that have flooded our markets. I think seed companies could promote a minimum of two varieties at a time. This is also ideal for their own production expenses. Our agro-ecological zones are not so variable to warrant 40 different maize varieties. We are confusing our farmers especially that the expansion of maize varieties has not been backed by viable extension services. In addition, the computer age names of our seeds are just causing more problems on the ground. As a country we should be able to promote varieties for each region. Therefore, the subsidy programme promoting maize could be implemented mainly in Central Region.

Secondly, the subsidy programme could promote irrigation activities. I cannot understand that several potential areas for irrigation in Nkhota-kota and Lower Shire have not been utilised. Irrigation programmes will not only promote adaptation to climate change, but will create employment and semi-urban centres that can help reduce rural-urban migration. Definitely, a third of finances located to the subsidy programme could be invested in large scale irrigation programmes. It will be good to see our President officially opening a 40,000-hectare irrigation project. This could allow the government withstand the effects of climate change both in the short and long term.

Lastly, we cannot divorce our self from livestock programmes. In actual fact, promoting livestock production has been considered as the best approach to adapt to climate change. People in areas where crops cannot perform better, could be given coupons for accessing goat, sheep, rabbits, chickens, mbira and others. In actual fact, issues of stealing coupons or sabotaging the programme could be reduced if the subsidy programmes include livestocks.

Finally, there is strong need to bring together the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Environmental Affairs in designing country level programmes. Currently, this marriage is not effective and it is causing problems at community level. The development of the Agricultural Development Programme (ADP) clearly shows that the Ministry of Environmental Affairs was not involved. I may be wrong but the whole policy paper has deficiencies in issues of climate change and environmental management. The unfortunate part is that the NAPA has identified agriculture as the most important sector in terms of climate change. This also comes back to the role of donors in promoting sustainable development programmes. Can we work as a team to achieve sustainable development? Should Malawi dance to the tune of donors because we have no financial resources? Climate change like HIV/Aids is a global as well as a national problem. This will require concerted efforts from all stakeholders for improved rural livelihoods.

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