This country, Malawi, gets billions of dollars a year from the guilty developed world, trying to win a losing battle against an unknown silent killer.
Earlier this week I was told that “you people came here and insisted we grow maize as our staple crop and now you send Aid to try and cure our famine problems, with no idea what you are doing. You should all go home and leave us to solve our own problems: you have made us a nation of beggars unable to think for ourselves. We sit and wait for the next hand out, fertiliser coupon or white jeep, while our depleted land descends into oblivion, while we try and pretend that unsustainable artificial fertiliser will bring us more than fleeting relief.
I was being lectured to by a man I greatly admire and who was honoured with a doctorate by his government for his work on organic agriculture, in the back garden of his house at freedom gardens. (Well his 22 acre swamp farm)
He goes on “they (the Government) have all seen it, but do nothing” “they are obsessed with artificial fertiliser as a cure all”.
He adds, “All our plants here are grown without the use of fertiliser or pesticides”. Anyone can do it.
I was on my third visit booking in two new recruits for a week in this amazing place. The week costs 6000 MKw (about 31€) for bed, board and especially the hands-on training.
He tells me he has no agricultural training nor was he even a farmer, in a country where anyone who has the academic knowledge sits in an office admiring their piece of paper qualification and adminstering.
What has started me off was working with two young field officers of a local NGO and having worked with the Government Agricultural field officer in another area the day before.
They seemed to have a mission which was bounded by maize and fertiliser, they spoke of model gardens and composting, but hadn’t been involved in either. They had no seeds, no access to seeds, seedlings or knowledge of how to find the likes. They were fulfilling the role. Ministers without portfolio.
It looks as if they got a six month course on maize and maybe tobacco and were let loose to fend for themselves. Their superiors with the academic training and knowledge seem reluctant to part with any of their knowledge maybe for fear of lessening their status.
So excited were Minds and Frazier, from CADECOM (A dioscesan group working on food security and Aids), at the prospect of a dam and a model garden, that they took off their good clothes and shoes and got stuck into the work like the rest of us.
Frazier has decided that all the knowledge learned with us can be used on his own land. “I can do this for myself now”, commenting on the dam construction, in Elamuleni and composting methods used by the co op in Ecaiweni
This was always my simple ambition, that Malawians should teach each other with a little help from their friends, be that encouragement, technical know how or a bit of micro credit. The knowledge is there but doesn’t seem to pass over the next hill between villages. Sometimes I feel that it takes a white person’s, compliment, before people believe they are doing a good job.
We need to get them feeling confidant in their own abilities, which they undoubtedly have.
Did I mention the silent killer, which is everywhere, transmitted by teachers, nurses and other educated young people who should know better, driving sparkling jeeps, sent with a plan written in stone.
If I look at most areas where I work, in Malawi, I wonder where all the millions went in the past 20,30 or 40 years.
I speak of the deadly AID virus (not aids): the unstructured handout, the cheque in the post, the killer freebie, the idea that money can solve everything.
Malawians die waiting for it. They fail to sow their crops, waiting on coupons for fertiliser. They depend on the whities with the handout. They do become beggars. They unknowingly neglect their land, losing their spirit and dignity.
Malawi may be the poorest place on the planet, but let us give them their dignity of a better deal.
Let us stop sending them well paid graduates, with soft, clean hands and no common sense or practical side to their brain, instead send non graduates, who know what they’re doing, to be their mentors.