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Dr KhailaThe Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET) on 4th and 5th October held its  2016 National Conference under the theme “Agriculture for Development and Transformation Agenda in Malawi”. 

The conference was held the Bingu International Conference Centre (BICC) in Lilongwe where a number of seasoned and distinguished persons spoke and made presentations on several topics.Distinguished scholar Dr Stanley Khaila delivered a key note address. Find below the key note text.

Honourable Minister, it is a great honour to be given the opportunity to deliver a keynote address at this year’s CISANET Annual Conference. This is quite different from what I am used to in the CISANET Annual conferences.

In the past, I have been asked to present technical papers which are within my comfort zone as they emanate from long years of my academic life in the University of Malawi. Honourable Minister, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, delivering a keynote address is a different ball game altogether. By implication I am requested to establish the main underlying theme of this conference; to establish the framework for the programme of this Annual Conference and perhaps to flag up a larger idea. This is a daunting task and quite delicate as you might appreciate. I have to balance my personal inclinations with objective requirements of this nation’s development agenda. I have to exercise judgement in pointing out critical issues and stating the facts without appearing to be criticising. In a technical paper I would not shy from making recommendations. But in this case, that would be seen to be prescriptive. This is what makes a keynote address different from a technical paper. Hence I will put ideas on the table for discussion and debate. I am aware that I am treading a thin line between being prescriptive and setting a tone for the conference. Nonetheless, I will state the broad ideas with conviction; otherwise you will have no reason to consider them for discussion.
Honourable Minister, the theme of the Annual Conference is Agriculture for Development Agenda in Malawi. Implied in the theme is the idea that if Malawi were to develop, agriculture should be at the centre of that development agenda. The Conference organizers have given reasons why this is the case. They say agriculture is the source of about 90% of the food consumed in Malawi, it contributes about 39% of the GDP, employs about 85% of the population, it accounts for about 60% of rural income activities and 90% of all export earnings mainly from tobacco, tea and sugar. Agriculture is at the core of Malawians’ livelihood and is currently the strongest tool for poverty reduction.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, the idea of giving prominence to agriculture as the engine for economic growth is quite refreshing to some of us. There are people in this room who think that agriculture cannot be the engine of development in this country or in any country for that matter. They will even ask, “Is there a country that has developed with agriculture as the main economic growth engine?” The answer of course is yes and the United States of America is one of them. As a matter of fact, many of the countries we call First Worlds started as agrarian societies and have evolved over centuries to reach where they are today. The First World countries did not spring full blown into metropolises. They evolved over a long period. But as Mwalimu Julius Nyerere advised, “We can’t walk, we must run.” However, we should run with a vision, purpose and direction. So what are the requirements if agriculture were to be relied upon, at least initially, as the engine of economic development? This will be the main theme of this conference and this keynote address.
Honourable Minister, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, if agriculture is to be the engine of economic growth in this country there are some basic things that we need to put in order. The organizers of the Conference have provided background reading which flag the Asian countries such as South Korea, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia as good examples to learn from. They have also included examples from Africa such as Ethiopia and Rwanda and some European countries such as France, Austria, Finland, Norway and Italy. As we draw lessons from these countries, we need to always keep in mind a piece of advice from Dr Henry Kissinger which I quote,
“… technology has made it possible for nearly every country to participate in events in every part of the world as they occur … Unfortunately the explosion in information has not been accompanied by a similar increase in knowledge. The continents interact, but they do not necessary understand each other. The uniformity of technology is accompanied by an implicit assumption that politics, and even cultures, will become homogenized. Especially, the long-established nations of the West have fallen prey to the temptation of ignoring history and judging every new state by the criteria of their own civilization.[Dr Henry Kissinger, Forward to the book From Third World to First - The Singapore Story: 1965 – 2000 by Lee Kuan Yew].
I find this quote quite instructional. Lessons we must learn but we must not ignore our won history because history matters.
With the objective of making agriculture the economic engine of the nation, the participants to this year’s conference are expected to discuss and propose what should go into the new Agriculture Sector Wide Approach (ASWAp) and also discuss and propose the form in which agriculture should be presented as a priority sector in the MGDS.
Honourable Minister, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, there are a number of lessons that we can draw from the countries listed above. I will try to outline what I gleaned in broad paint brush form. I will leave the details to the presentations and deliberations during the conference proceedings.
The first lesson I draw from these countries is the existence of visionary leadership. Late Professor Bingu wa Muthalika used to ask us to dream in colour because he was aware that every great achievement must start with a dream before it becomes reality. He was also aware that he could not dream on our behalf. Lee Kuan Yew, the founder and first president of Singapore wrote in his book, “We cannot afford to forget that public order, personal security, economic and social progress, and prosperity are not the natural order of things, that they depend on ceaseless effort and attention from an honest and effective government...” This is one of the basic requirements of development for any country.
The birth of Singapore was in many ways similar to that of Malawi. Located on a sandbar with no resources to talk about; very small, only 640 sq. km; and in 1959 it had a population of 1 million people and a per capita income of US$400. Annual per capita income grew from US$1,000 at independence in 1965 to US$30,000 in 2000; transformed from Third World to First World. Malawi was born in 1964, not as small, 118,000 sq. km and had a population of about 3.5 million. As of today the annual per capita of Malawi is US$250 and by this measure, Malawi is the poorest in the world.
These are two countries that started with similar circumstances but have emerged to be completely different fifty years later. This seems to support the argument that personalities and people matter. This is the second lesson to be learnt. Development requires superior intelligence (call it wisdom), discipline and ingenuity. These attributes can and did substitute for resources in the case of Singapore.
Honourable Minister, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, the third lesson to learn from these countries is that they emphasized state led interventions in economic development. This is what is being termed a developmental state in this conference. As may be recalled, this is how we started but now we have liberalized and the results have been mixed at best. In the case of the Asian countries liberalization was allowed to evolve and was not an overnight transformation.
Fourthly, in all these countries there was strong and effective planning institutions. The conference organizers have proposed the establishment of an Agriculture Transformation Unit under the Planning Commission, modeled on the Ethiopian Agriculture Transformation Agency. Apparently this unit will be charged with the responsibility of visioning, strategizing, monitoring, etc. While I agree that planning is a critical function, I would propose that the establishment of the unit be discussed carefully. In terms of visioning, we need to remember that in principle the first visionary in the development process is the head of state. Furthermore, it is difficult to vision on behalf of another person. If we created a unit to vision, the challenge would be to ensure that the vision coming from this unit is shared by the head of state. Otherwise the unit may not be taken seriously. Just like our vision 2020. The proposal that it be chaired by the head of state is possible, but then there is a need to differentiate this unit clearly from cabinet.
Honourable Minister, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, we should also ask ourselves the following question: How are the functions of this unit different from functions that are supposed to be carried out by the Department of Economic Planning and Development? As I recall, this department used to be in the OPC at some time and it used to be functional in terms of planning and investment in the economy. Even within the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, there is a planning directorate. Hence, as we think about the new unit, let us take stock of what we have and seriously do a SWOT analysis; a sort of interrogation to get to the root of our challenges. Otherwise we risk simply duplicating institutions.
Honourable Minister, as you can imagine, I am not ready to cast a vote of no confidence in the intellectual capacities of the officers in planning units in the various ministries in the country. I am of the view that given adequate resources and appropriate support from the politicians, these officers have the requisite expertise and can plan for this country. Saying it differently, the new unit may not make a difference if there is no support and adequate resources provided. I think that the Department of Economic and Development is well placed to carry out this function and, indeed, it would command more respect if it was brought back to OPC.
Honourable Minister, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, as far as transformation of the smallholder farmers is concerned, I would like to put a few ideas on the table for the conference participants to deliberate on. These ideas are farmer organisation, land consolidation, farm mechanisation, professional farm management, financial services, technical and research services, investment in storage and processing and market management and linkages.
Land consolidation: Smallholder farmers claim close to 70% of farm land and their population is between 80 and 85%. It would not be appropriate to create a large landless class of peoples before we have created non-farm employment opportunities. However, with the new land laws in place it is possible to institute a programme of land consolidation to allow farmers to pool their land together and farm as one farm. In this way, the farmers would have access to credit, can mechanise due to scale and can produce as commercial entities. Like any other revolution, this would call for determination and cannot be done in a quick-fix manner. Furthermore, in some cases it may require resources for resettling people. But this would be a strategic investment with potential to revolutionalize the economy and creating the growth centres proposed by the conference organisers.
Farmer organisation: In order for the land consolidation to be effective and benefit the farmers, it would be required that they get organised into legal entities. Such legal entities should be catalysed but the catalyst should not create dependency syndrome. Hence, it would be recommended that the individual land holdings be converted into shares in either a cooperative or company. This would give the organisation ownership by the farmers.
Professional farm management: I am aware of the low numeracy and literacy levels among the smallholder farmers in the country. If the collectivised farms were to be transformative and commercial, they would have to be managed professionally by skilled people with all the technical know-how. There are several way this can be done: farmers can hire individual farm managers or private companies or choose members of the collective to run the farm as long as they have the expertise to run a farm on a commercial basis. In either case, legal contracts would have to be entered into with terms and conditions of service.
Farm mechanisation: It is generally agreed that the hand hoe cannot take farming very far. Mechanisation is essential. Under the consolidated farms, mechanisation would be made possible.
Financial services: The biggest bottleneck to agricultural transformation in this country is access to business friendly financial services. The interest rates are too high for any business, let alone farming. It is argued that the interest rates are driven by high inflation rates. Another factor is public borrowing. Nonetheless, the difference between the inflation rate and the bank lending rate is too big and cannot be explained by inflation or government borrowing. The conference should consider ways of providing financial services that are farmer friendly. It is unfortunate that there is a negative perception of government institutions; having not done well with a number of them.
Honourable Minister, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to put it that let’s not throw the baby with the bath water. This country may have experienced lapses with state run institutions, but this does not mean state run institutions are in themselves a problem. There are many examples where states have successfully intervened. A good example is ADMARC. In its hay days, it was being run professionally until something went wrong.
Irrigation infrastructure: This is another great bottleneck to agriculture development. It is now abundantly clear that we cannot rely on rain fed agriculture. For sustained agricultural growth, there is an urgent need to invest in water harvesting infrastructure for irrigation.
Technical and research services: Technology has proven to make a difference on whether agriculture will be transformed or not. Plant and animal diseases need to be controlled. Breeding using modern scientific advances contribute to sustainability and profitability of farming. In order for the collective farms to be competitive on the world market, investment in research and generation of appropriate technologies must be made a priority. The key to research and technology development are the public universities. This is because they have a large concentration of highly trained people. For this to materialise, universities must have strong postgraduate programmes must be given resources for research.
Investment in storage and processing: In 1996, I was attending a conference in Kampala, Uganda. President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, in his opening speech, lamented that Uganda had been exporting raw cotton to England since it was invented. The result was that the multiplier effect of the textile industries which should have taken place in Uganda were taking place in Europe. He said this must stop. I have not been in Uganda to see whether export of cotton stopped. But the message was loud and clear. This is what is needed in the transformation of the smallholder sector. Value adding through processing, packaging, etc. should be part and parcel of the process. Honourable Minister, this requires government policy.
Market management and linkages: Agriculture cannot benefit the smallholder farmers without market regulation to level the playing field. We have seen in history how the tobacco industry has evolved from a very strictly regulated industry to a liberalised one. The consequences are there to see. All markets have standards and measures which must be adhered to. Market information is required and is not readily available. When farmers conduct their business without full market information, they run the risk of pareto inferior. Malawi is blessed by being a member of both COMESA and SADC. With proper institutions, Malawi farmers can take advantage of these markets. This conference shall do well to spend some time discussing how markets can be managed and how farmers can be linked to fair and profitable markets.
Honourable Minister, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I want to comment a bit on clarification and separation of roles and responsibilities as one of the issues that require attention. Government is an institution just like any other. For it to operate effectively and efficiently, roles and responsibilities of the various players ought to be clear. We need to be clear as to who should fashion the vision of national development. Should it be the role of the technocrats? Or should it be left to the head of state and the cabinet to set the direction of where development ought to go. In national development where you want to go is the substance of your dreams – daydreams you might call them. This is what visioning is all about. The visionaries may get their inspiration from various sources through reading and discussion with the technocrats and university luminaries. But ownership of vision is crucial if it is to be followed up with action. And visions that are not followed up by action are not only useless but a waste of time as well.
There is a need to set priorities and realistic goals followed by strategies on how to realise those goals. Implementation of strategies requires resources and visions cannot be realised if there are no resources for achieving them. The people responsible for implementing strategies must be motivated to do so. This conference shall do well to discuss how the civil service can be motivated to implement set strategies. This country has so many good policies which have not been adequately implemented. Quite often projects get implemented which are not part of government policies or development plans. It is not clear whether this is due to lack of ownership of the policy or lack of political will to follow through with policies.
Honourable Minister, I would like to commend Government for engaging in a process of restoring donor confidence in government institutions. The Cashgate scandal eroded confidence in government and its institutions. As we contemplate a process to revitalise and transform agriculture, it will be necessary to continue building and restoring confidence in government. This country needs development partner support and for the support to be effective and make significant contribution to the agricultural transformation there is a need for donor support coordination. This becomes a challenge when there is low confidence in the government institutions.
Honourable Minister, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to end this address on a philosophical note. I would like to submit that for any meaningful transformation to occur in this country, Malawi ought to inculcate and embrace a set of values in society. First and foremost of these values is that we ought to attach the highest value to the dignity of life. According to Daisaku Ikeda (the third President of Soka Gakkai, the largest organization of Buddhist lay believers in Japan) and Arnold Toynbee (Koraes Professor of Byzantine and Modern Greek Language, Literature and History at the University of London), there can be no value greater that life. The dignity of life is a universal, absolute standard. Dignity is absolute, not relative and there is nothing, however valuable, that can be exchanged for dignity or honour. A person is despised by others if he/she sells his/her dignity and honour to gain wealth or social status, or even to save his/her life. Loss of dignity and honour is the price of moral and physical cowardice. Toynbee and Ikeda believe that this is the meaning of the passage in the New Testament: “What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16 verse 26; Mark 8 verses 36-37). Dignity supersedes honesty, integrity, discipline and hard work. However, these are the fundamental basic values that need to be inculcated in every citizen in Malawi.
Corruption is a clear indicator of loss of dignity and is rooted in being selfish and greedy. As a nation, we need to change from being selfish and greedy to being caring and loving in order to regain our dignity. We ought to attach the highest value to the dignity of life.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, dignity is the difference between being human and being an animal. We say that animals have no souls and they have no sense of dignity. Jesus perceived and denounced the greed that is innate in human nature in all times and places. In summarizing the Ten Commandments Jesus said love your neighbour as you love yourself. We cannot allow a part of the population to lose dignity by not being educated, not accessing medical treatment when sick, going hungry, living in poor houses, failing to get jobs, etc. all because we are swindling government of scarce resources. This is unacceptable and we should all desist from corruption if the country is to move forward on its development agenda. It is commendable that government is committed to bring all corruption cases to book and root it out in the work place.
Honourable Minister, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your attention.