interesting angle on farmers and production:
How did Malawi go from famine-plagued to food exporter?
While steady rains have undoubtedly helped, that's not the whole answer. Over the past couple of years, Malawi has broken with an orthodoxy long advocated by Canada and other Western donor nations: The impoverished country has gone back to subsidizing poor farmers. Condemned by donors as an impediment to the development of a sustainable agricultural sector, the subsidies have been a raging success.
“What is different [this year] is the access to inputs,” explained Patrick Kabambe, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security. “People are so poor they use recycled seed and no fertilizer. They can't meet their needs that way and they grow no surplus. People sink deeper and deeper into poverty. It's a vicious cycle. We had to do something.”
Starting in 2006, and on a larger scale this year, the government distributed coupons to low-income farmers to allow them to purchase 50-kilogram sacks of fertilizer for 950 kwacha ($7) rather than the market price of 4,500 kwacha. As a result, the average farmer's yield jumped to two tonnes a hectare from 800 kilograms.
The fertilizer subsidy cost the government $62-million – 6.5 per cent of the total government budget, a “whack of cash” in the words of one top economist – but that pales in comparison to the $120-million the government spent importing food aid in the 2005 famine. And the sale of maize to Zimbabwe and other countries will inject an additional $120-million into the national economy, a sizable figure here.
[ 12 October 2007: Message edited by: Geneva ]