Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries and faces many challenges both within the national context and the international arena.
More than 80% of the population in Malawi are rural-based and dependent on smallholder farming for their livelihoods but, despite multi-party democracy being introduced to Malawi in 1994, representation of these people is often not prioritised.
Malawi’s economy relies on agriculture. Smallholder farmers produce 80% of the country’s food supplies, and one third of GDP, and thus play a key role in the agriculture sector. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that their voice is heard and yet often Government agricultural policies have been developed without consultation with the majority stakeholders, the smallholders. This results in policies that are unrealistic and unachievable.
From the national perspective, most people are deprived of the benefits associated with having an official identity, as Malawi does not have a national identity card scheme. This reduces the role of participation, accountability and transparency that are normally enjoyed within a democracy.
Lack of official identity contributes to the problem of smallholders not being able to access the financial services that are vital to them to being to lift their farming from a subsistence level to a commercially viable livelihood. Without access to loans, smallholders are unable to purchase the fertiliser and quality seed that are key to increasing quality and quantity of production, which are in turn key to increasing national food security, increasing household income and developing the economy.
On the international arena, being a developing country, Malawi is often at a disadvantage with regards to international policies, particularly regarding trade and agriculture. It is important that such policies are challenged, to negotiate fairer terms on trade standards and tariffs that are more appropriate to the reality of the developing world.
The Solution – NASFAM’s Interventions
- Trade Barriers and Market Access: Malawi’s smallholder agriculture faces challenges of trade barriers at domestic, regional and international levels. Government intervention in price fixing and subsidy schemes provide short term gains which can potentially be detrimental in the long term. Regional and international policies are moving to reduce trade barriers to encourage free trade but introduce new barriers in the form of increased standard compliance requirements. NASFAM is involved in discussions lobbying for fair deals for smallholder farmers with regards to market access at all levels.
- Smallholder Financial Service Provision: With most smallholders generating cash once a year, and having a culture of poor financial management and saving, they rely on access to loans to be able to farm. However the financial environment is not favourable to the smallholder. Prohibitively high interest rates and loan guarantee requirements prevent most smallholders accessing the credit that they need to meet their potential for crop production. NASFAM is working to lobby Government and the financial institutions to make access to credit fairer and easier for the smallholder, so that they can more effectively contribute to national food security and economic development.
- Lobbying of National Policies and Government Intervention: In the past, Government has developed agricultural policies without the consultation and participation of the smallholder farmers who constitute 80% of the population and produce 80% of domestic food supplies. It is vital for national food security and economic development that policies reflect the needs and challenges of smallholder producers. NASFAM is involved in lobbying Government to ensure that the smallholder perspective is considered when developing any policies that impact on the potential of smallholder farming.