In Malawi, the road out of poverty is currently paved with state appropriations of land with a robust focus on commercial subsistence farming functioning as both the economic development and trigger of agribusiness and its profits and as a means to feed and provide for the millions of poor and vulnerable. For the government of President Joyce Banda, reclaiming idle farms is an effective measure to combat poverty in Malawi.

The President says the government is committed to modernizing and commercializing subsistence farming so it can develop into agribusiness and benefit from a post-globalization food market. Banda says her government will do everything possible to reclaim all farms that are idle and turn them over to farmers for commercial farming purposes.

Malawi is an impoverished nation with a largely agricultural based culture and society. It ranks 160th out of 182 nations on the Human Development Index. In the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report for 2009, nearly 74 percent of the population exists below the income poverty line of U.S.$1.25 a day and 90 per cent below the U.S.$2 per day threshold. There is a high proportion of poor and ultra poor in the rural areas of the country. More than a third of rural households earn their livelihood solely from farming or fishing and would bear the weight of the success or failure of a development program focused on taking idle farms for commercial development purposes.

If the program succeeds, it could provide security and resources for investment and development purposes. Due to the extreme poverty in Malawi and the limited economic resources and institutions, access to assets, services and economic opportunities is profoundly unequal across the population. Only 12 percent of households actually have access to credit.

Access to education is highly inequitable and the disenfranchisement of citizen’s educational rights means extremely limited economic prospects. Nearly 30 percent of poor children in Malawi do not even start primary school, which is free. Secondary and higher education is largely confined to wealthier households, largely due to the required enrollment fees which create exclusive accessibility to receiving an education to those who can afford it.  Poor rural individuals and families tend to live in remote areas with few roads and means of transport, which limits access to markets and services.

Poverty in Malawi may now have an answer, at least according to the government.

While discussing the situation of poverty in Malawi and the approach of the government, the President touted the potential and the rewards of the idle farm measure. The President mentioned the recently taken and handed over Anchor Estate formally Nantipwili Estate in Thyolo, which has been idle for five years.

“This farm has two big dams which will help in irrigation and fish farming, which will help to improve the lives of people from Thyolo especially if we take agriculture as business,” said Banda.

The President was pleased to be associated with the initiative as it aims at transforming lives of people through economic growth and has the potential to help boost the economy and help overcome poverty through successfully competing in the global market. For poverty in Malawi to be successfully fought, there needs to be economic security for the poor and a measure that provides long term benefits and profit for the country to stabilize and achieve growth.

Other government officials like Dr. James Munthali, made similar statements. Munthali, who is the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, in recent remarks, assured the nation that the government will do everything possible to acquire all lands and farms that are idle to give people to cultivate. As for now the government is firmly behind the program and is counting on its success as well as its potential profits.

– Nina Verfaillie
Feature Writer

Sources: All Africa, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: Adrian K. Mitchell