U.S. Ambassador to Malawi Virginia Palmer Remarks on behalf of Donor Partners at NAP launch

U.S. Ambassador to Malawi Virginia Palmer Remarks on Behalf of the Donor Committee on Agriculture and Food Security at the National Agricultural Policy and National Irrigation Policy Launch

November 30, 2016

  • Your Excellency Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, President of the Republic of Malawi, and First Lady Dr. Gertrude Muthariaka
  • Right Honorable Dr. Saulos Chilima, Vice President of the Republic of Malawi
  • Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Honorable Dr. George Chaponda, MP
  • Right Honorable Richard Msowoya, MP Speaker to the National Assembly and members of Parliament here present
  • His Worship Councilor Willie Chapondera, Mayor of Lilongwe City
  • President of the Farmers Union of Malawi, Alfred Kapichira Banda
  • Dean of the Diplomatic Corps Ambassador Dumbutshena, Ambassador of the Republic of Zimbabwe and other diplomatic colleagues,
  •  Ladies and gentlemen

I’m honored to speak on behalf of Malawi’s Development Partners at today’s unveiling of the National Agricultural Policy and the National Irrigation Policy.

I want to start, Mr. President, by acknowledging some of the important work you and your government have done to begin to break the cycle of food and nutrition insecurity in Malawi:

First, we salute you for acceding to four of the land bills that had been pending since 2002.  Security of land tenure is important to stimulating investment in agriculture and to protecting the rights of Malawi’s smallholder farmers – men and women.

Second, we applaud you for making the Farm Input Subsidy Program more efficient and cost-effective by reducing the subsidy level, allowing the private sector to distribute inputs and targeting recipients with productive potential on a pilot basis. If these reforms continue, they will further improve program efficiency, increase productivity and free up scarce government resources for other essential needs.

Third, it was too long coming, Mr. President, but we must also acknowledge ADMARC’s improving transparency as it coordinates with the World Food Program to respond to the current cycle of food insecurity.  This will make our joint humanitarian assistance efforts more effective.

Fourth, we commend you for taking the fiscally responsible action of setting a realistic – less market distorting – ADMARC price for maize this year.  This  not only stopped the staggering maize price inflation but also resulted in the private sector selling at competitive prices.  The government has gotten a bad rap in the media – unfairly, we believe – for “setting a higher price” for maize.  In fact, what the government did was secure necessary maize and provide it to ADMARC customers for the landed price with minimal subsidization.  This reduced the fiscal risk of the Government’s having to bail out ADMARC later this year and disincentivized the private sector from continuing to hoard maize to sell at inflated prices later in the hunger season.  If you will commit now (because late market intervention hurt Malawian farmers last year)  to taking similar action next year,  to ensure that ADMARC prices conform to the market, it will make Malawi’s markets operate more efficiently:  it will encourage farmers to plant food crops and traders to import or buy local maize for sale without speculative pricing.

Fifth, we acknowledge your efforts to introduce a new National Resilience Plan. We hope your consultations ultimately achieve broader buy-in and ownership from all across your government, particularly the Ministry of Agriculture, which is the implementer of many programs key to a successful Resilience Plan.

Finally – and to come to the purpose of our gathering today – we congratulate you very sincerely for completing the National Agricultural Policy and National Irrigation Policy.  Malawian farmers face serious challenges today, including:

  • increasing climate variability and dependence on unpredictable rainfall rather than financially viable modern irrigation systems;
  • declining soil fertility resulting from deforestation;
  • lack of access to extension services to update and enhance their skills;
  • lack of access to quality seeds from both formal and informal sectors as well as markets to obtain fair prices;
  • reliance on manual farming tools rather than modern farming technologies; and
  • over-reliance on ever-shrinking small farming plots as Malawi’s population continues to increase.

Together, the National Agricultural Policy and National Irrigation Policy will help overcome these challenges.  The Policy frameworks form an early, but important, step in breaking-the-cycle of food insecurity by outlining the actions necessary;

  • to make markets more transparent and predictable for increased private investment,
  • to simplify and enforce regulations and procedures for new firms to invest and become more competitive,
  • to diversify into more nutritious and climate resilient crops,
  • to tap into regional markets, and
  • to use technology to minimize the impact of droughts and floods on food production.

Completion of these policies fulfills one of your Government’s major commitments to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.  These policies – coupled with actions we hope to see soon to make use of the Control of Goods Act predictable and transparent;  to harmonize Malawi’s seed protocols with her SADC neighbors so that Malawian farmers have easier and less expensive access to improved seeds, including from the informal system; and promulgation of a fertilizer policy and act – will unlock significant private sector and donor investments in the agricultural sector.

We urge you to fully implement all provisions of the National Agriculture Policy and the National Irrigation Policy in the forthcoming Sector Wide Approach (ASWAp) so farmers can leverage the power of markets to break-the-cycle of food insecurity.  For example, if fully implemented:

The promotion of investments in climate-smart agriculture under Policy Priority #1 will help build a more diverse agricultural landscape in Malawi and therewith foster productivity and resilience to increasing climate and market volatilities.

The development of public-private partnerships under Policy Priority #2 will lead to more financially viable  infrastructure development, especially for irrigation; and

The facilitation ADMARC reforms, and transparent and evidence-based market and trade policies (including those for maize exports and seed imports) under Priority #4 will improve the development of agricultural markets that provide the right incentives to the agricultural population.

Now the hard works begins, Mr. President…….Improved irrigation alone won’t solve Malawi’s food crisis – much of your irrigated land is unplanted each year because your agriculture markets don’t work like they should and farmers are choosing not to invest in food crops.  Policy fixes are required to reduce price volatility and encourage investment in agriculture.  You’ll notice as Development Partners we’ve been banging on a “fully implement these policies” drum because Policy launches do not feed hungry Malawians – Malawian farmers do.  And they will, if the policies are fully implemented.

I’ve seen it work, Mr. President.  Just behind the airport, there is a village where smallholder farmers have invested in improved seeds and fertilizer and achieved a marketable surplus even in this most difficult of years.   I’ve seen the warehouse stacked to the roof with their bags of carefully sorted maize.  They sold that surplus to the World Food Program.  Due to their efforts to organize under a cooperative and willingness to assume the investment risks necessary, we were able to buy some of the food required to respond to the current humanitarian crisis from them – locally, that is, rather than from Europe or South America. This enabled us to buy and distribute the food faster and at lower cost, while simultaneously rewarding Malawian producers with a good price for their efforts. These industrious Malawi farmers produced enough surplus, to not only feed their families, but also to  assist those most affected by this year’s drought. The farmers in the Chigonthi Cooperative represent the agriculture potential that these new policies must unleash if Malawi is to break the cycle of food insecurity.

The National Agricultural Policy and the National Irrigation Policy can help Malawi to not only break the cycle of food and nutrition insecurity but also to transform Malawi’s agriculture sector into an engine for economic growth and jobs creation — while moving away from the unsustainable focus on fertilizer and seed subsidies.  This will bring us to the Malawi you spoke so eloquently of in your State of the Nation Address last week, Mr. President:  a Malawi which no longer requires basic food assistance for its people – but instead helps to feed the region through the export of Malawi’s surplus, to a food supply that meets international standards for food safety under the Malawi Bureau of Standards – opening valuable global markets for Malawian groundnuts that are free of aflatoxin while improving the safety of Malawi’s own food.

Your challenge is to turn these policies into reality.  Please know that you are not alone in your effort to break the cycle of food and nutrition insecurity.  Malawi’s Development Partners will stand behind you if you fully implement the challenging but necessary reforms of the new land bills and the National Agricultural Policy.

Zikomo Kwambiri.