Agriculture sector stagnates

Agriculture sector stagnates

For the past five years, lack of political will has made the agriculture sector fail to register a six percent annual growth target set in the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security.

Malawi is a signatory to the declaration which, by assumption, reaching the six percent annual growth would translate to the elevation of livelihoods in rural areas, where agriculture is most practised.

A farmer in his maize garden

The declaration compels countries to allocate at least 10 percent of national budgetary resources to agriculture to achieve this six percent annual growth target.

But our analysis shows that the agriculture sector only came close to reaching the growth target only once in the past five years. This is despite the sector’s allocation falling below 10 percent in only two financial years.

For instance, in the 2018/19 financial year, the sector reported a 0.9 percent growth with a nine percent sector allocation and 5.9 percent in the 2019/20 financial year with an 11.3 percent allocation.

The growth rate was 3.4 percent in the 2020/21 financial year with a 9.6 percent sector allocation, 3.2 percent in the 2021/22 financial year with a 14.3 percent sector allocation and 3 percent in the 2022/23 financial year with a 15.8 percent sector allocation.

In the 2023/24 financial year, the sector is projected to grow by two percent while the sector allocation is at 11.8 percent.

With such development farmers are failing to recoup from the investment that has solely focused on Affordable Input Programme at the expense of other sectors.

As a result, some farmers claim they are even failing to sell their produce as years go by due to lack of markets because the government has not prioritised them .

Eggrey Mangulama from Malika Village in the area of Group Village Head Kanjuchi in Chiradzulu District in an interview on Wednesday said despite having good harvests, she has always struggled to sell her produce.

She said: “Due to the absence of markets, I always find it challenging to sell my produce, and with no proper road infrastructure, I find it hard to travel to distant places where I can easily, perhaps, sell my produce.”

In a separate interview, Benson Madzadza Jere, a farmer from Traditional Authority Kasumbu in Dedza District, decried the lack of extension services to help boost his productivity.

“I always anticipate maximum [agriculture] productivity but because of lack of advisory services, I fail to achieve this dream,” he said.

Phaless Mzumara from Bumba in Rumphi District also expressed similar sentiments, saying lack of access to markets and advanced technology interventions have been a challenge.

“This has stopped me from having access to proper markets and ensuring that I have proper harvests, especially when a particular rainy season has been faced with challenges,” he said.

Independent agricultural policy think-tank, Mwapata Institute chief executive officer William Chadza, in an interview on Wednesday attributed the sector’s failure to grow to the quality of expenditure.

He said: “You will also notice that the country has been having declining development expenditure and a rising recurrent expenditure.

“Over 90 percent of agricultural expenditure happens at the central government level, leaving very little to trickle down to the districts and other lower levels.”

Chadza said based on numerous studies, investment in infrastructure, development and research has potential to generate higher returns on agricultural growth.

Chadza said it is important to increase the levels of investment in agriculture.

Agricultural policy expert Tamani Nkhono Mvula in an interview on Tuesday said it is worrisome that despite the agriculture sector getting substantial allocations, it has not met the six percent annual growth target.

“The main problem is that these allocations have not been smart enough to bring about the six percent annual growth,” he said.

Nkhono Mvula said, for example, spending of the agriculture budget has been on subsidies that are centred on rainfed agriculture amid climate change challenges and labour productivity increase failure.

Nkhono Mvula said a risky investment in the agriculture sector has in turn led to failure in achieving the annual growth target.

He further said the annual growth target would be easily achieved if more resources were diversified to more productive sub-sectors.

A 2022/23 agriculture sector budget analysis by Action Aid Malawi states that prospects of the agriculture sector meeting set targets such as the Maputo Declaration could be difficult if more resources are directed towards consumption expenditure.

Reads part of the analysis: “Economic growth spurred by agriculture is possible through increased agricultural productivity led by investments agricultural through public spending.”

The analysis states that it is unfortunate that agriculture spending has generally been biased towards the crops sub-sector, perhaps, owing to its importance in food security.

But the challenge, according to the analysis, is that other critical sub-sectors such as aquaculture and livestock development that are equally important for improving household nutrition security have not benefited.

The agriculture sector was allocated K317 billion in the current financial year, representing 3.0 percent of the growth domestic product (GDP).

Minister of Agriculture Sam Kawale did not pick up our phone calls on numerous attempts.

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