Another post for those interested in the underlying economic context of Malawi life. For there are no easy answers to the spiritual and material challenges faced by this wonderful country, but the more time we spend here the more we realise that the solutions to the material issues are bound up in the solution to the spiritual ones.
Malawi must appear to the rest of the world as if it is always complaining. Last year we were complaining of too much rain flooding vast areas of maize, this year we are complaining of too little and too sporadic rain across the south and much of central Malawi.
But these are the climatic conditions that Malawi has to get used to as El Nino related meteorology continues to impact eastern and southern Africa. Recent reports show that this year some areas saw rainfall in the key Oct-April season at 75% of average making it one of the five driest seasons in the past 35 years. This means that rather than bouncing back from the 30% drop in maize production in 2015, 2016 is predicted to see a further 2% drop in the harvest.
This leaves the majority of Malawians reliant on buying maize as their own meagre home-grown supplies run out. However, slow decision making and poor logistics means the government backed maize trader, Admarc, continues to fail to meet the demand for its subsidised maize.
Logistic issues include a lack of coordination at border points leaving imported maize sitting on trucks for months. More fundamentally, slow government decision making seems to ensure Admarc ends up buying maize so late in the season that wholesale prices have already risen. They then sell it at about half the free-market rate incurring a significant loss.
Thankfully momentum appears to be building behind several initiatives that will help Malawians to help themselves in both the short and the medium term:
- This year the government has already guaranteed Admarc credit lines up to $10 million so they can buy maize early and hence at low prices.
- Government and NGOs are increasingly emphasising the more effective use, through irrigation, of the millions of gallons of water that flow each day from Malawi, through the Zambezi, into the Indian Ocean. The millions of dollars stolen from government coffers during ‘Cash Gate’ would have gone a long way to network Malawi with irrigation canals.
- Politicians are realising the need to migrate farmers away from water intensive and fertilizer intensive cash crops like tobacco, crops that make up over 70% of Malawi’s much needed exports. They are encouraging a shift to crops like ground-nuts, sunflower and soya.
- Churches and faith based organisations are re-emphasising God’s commission to ‘steward’ the earth (Gen 1:26,28; Gen 2:15) as we “go and make disciples” (Matt 28:18,20). The resulting conservation agriculture methods such as “Farming God’s Way” allow subsistence farmers to sustainably increase maize yields through reducing tilling and introducing mulching and crop rotation.
Friends, please continue to pray with us for the leaders and people of Malawi: that the nation might be changed through the Holy Spirit transforming hearts, resulting in a people willing to serve each other; and that a generation of Christ-like shepherd leaders would be raised up to prepare Malawi for the dry years with that same God-given wisdom that Joseph knew.
Oh Lord, where is Malawi’s Joseph?
Sources: “Water crisis looms as El Nino bites”, “Malawi maize stuck in Zambia”, “Report predicts severe food shortage this year”, “Transparency, accountability crucial on Admarc”, “Has time come to replace tobacco?”, Weekend Nation 20(4) 02 Apr 2016.
Thanks Myles, another very interesting article. We get a vegetable box delivered to our home, and they mentioned in their newsletter that maize is one of the most environmentally degrading crops as it also removes a very high proportion of nutrients from the soil. Re zero till farming etc, I was pointed by Martin Etter of Veritas to Crown Malawi, http://crownmalawi.org/. Some people don’t like the phrase “Farming God’s Way” by the way!
Hi Mike, thanks for the feedback. Yes the well-meaning colonialists have a lot to answer for in the introduction of maize. Yes, I don’t particularly like the name either. They have changed it to “Foundations in Farming” etc but none are as memorable so you find everyone saying: “that course that used to be called ‘Farming God’s Way’ “!!