Yes, Malawi can feed itself—through a
sustainable agriculture revolution
From an article By Amadou Makhtar Diop
Saw a piece on the RTE News last night, about a Conference on Malawi where Michael Kitt TD spoke,and felt I had to respond, to myself at least, on a lot of big words I heard uttered: like Millenium Goals, ahead of the curve, expanding envelopes.
The Millenium Goals for the developing world are long since set in train so why now?. What have all these words to do with “my” poor, starving farmers in Northern Malawi. What will an expensive Conference in Malawi achieve? Why can’t we just go and do things for a change?
Over many thousands of years, Africans farmers have accumulated a vast amount of knowledge about their environment. Will any of them be asked what they think or what they will take on board?
Organic agriculture is considered a sustainable option in developing countries because it offers a unique combination of low external-input technology, environmental conservation and input/output efficiency. In Malawi, only isolated organic farming techniques are practiced. There is a general lack of an integrated approach to soil regeneration and crop protection which would otherwise optimize the benefits of locally available natural resources.
The Green Revolution in its time boosted yields in Asia’s rice-based systems through hybrid varieties and applied crop-protection materials, but is not sustainable
Does Malawi need another yield-focused, high-external input Green Revolution?: the answer is “No!”
What Malawi needs is a sustainable agriculture revolution that focuses on food security, fair trade with local markets and ecological standards that make sense to farmers. Successful integration of plants and animals can result in positive interactions and optimize biological processes, such as the regulation of harmful organisms, recycling of nutrients, biomass production and the build-up of soil organic matter.
Declining soil fertility is the greatest problem affecting Malawian farmers’ ability to produce enough food for their families. Farmers of the developing world tend to prefer more resilient systems that build on traditional management techniques over costly high-tech production systems. Ordinary farmers can’t afford expensive fertilizer and the Country can’t afford to continue subsidizing a failed and unbalanced system, which causes progressive depletion of the soil. Nature will always prevail.
Soil regeneration is key to sustainable development, where the loss of soil organic matter contributes to a rapid decline of soil fertility, degradation of soil structure and increased risk of erosion. In developing countries, food production could be doubled or tripled through the use of organic methods by intensifying biological activity through increasing diversification.
The role of women is crucial in agricultural production and for improved livelihood. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, 31 percent of rural households are headed by women, despite the fact that women have less access to land than men. When women own land, their holdings tend to be smaller and located in more marginal areas. In most of the countries surveyed by the FAO, there has been some growth in the number of non-governmental organizations and women’s associations involving or working with rural women.
What is needed are community-based systems of cooperative family farms, organized to market for local and regional distribution and re-integrating livestock wherever feasible term rehabilitative approach
Malawi needs a systemic approach to both restore its ecosystems and to produce enough food sustainably for its people.
Yes,it can feed itself and at the same time preserve its natural resources and the environment. To make this happen, the following steps must take place:
• Give up on a failed top down approach and involve the farmers.
• Establish sustainable agriculture programs in co operation with farmers.
• Adopt farming systems with a focus on preserving biodiversity, natural resource management and soil fertility improvement based on sound ecological principles.
• Set up local open fertilized seed banks and subsidise seed production
• Intensify crop and animal production without the use of industrially produced chemical fertilizers.
• Offer farmer-centered technical training in sustainable farming techniques.
• Identify, improve and expand the best traditional agricultural practices.
• Optimize irrigation and management of water resources.
• Support women in agriculture.
• Protect African nations from foreign dumping of food commodities and cheap food imports that destabilize regional farm communities.
• Create access to practical information, land, infrastructure, credit and markets.
• Use practical farmer to farmer training methods, thereby reducing an external, alien, top down and academic approach
WE know all this already: but why are so few Government Agencies or Aid Agencies promoting this?