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Rex ChapotaOn behalf of the Board of trustees and the Secretariat of the Civil Society Agriculture Network, I would like to welcome you our guest of honor, the Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development to this function. It is really a great honour to us for you to grace this occasion.

I would also like to welcome all of you to this year’s CISANET National Conference (4th and 5th October, 2016) which we have entitled Agriculture for Development and Transformation Agenda. The conference will be followed by a CISANET Annual General Meeting for the year 2016.

For those of you who have travelled from outside Lilongwe, I hope you travelled well from your respective duty stations and also that you will enjoy the National Conference that we will have the next two days. Your coming to this important meetings bears witness of your commitment and support to the important work that CISANET is doing in the agriculture sector in this country.

Hon Minister, we so grateful that you accepted to come and be the guest of honour but also to officially open this very important meeting. We don’t take this for granted but we recognize that this is a recognition that your Ministry gives to CISANET as an important stakeholder in the agriculture sector. CISANET would also want to specifically thank our Development Partners who have made financial contributions for us to be able to gather here this morning. These include the European Union, World Vision International, OXFAM, Concern Worldwide, ICCO and Catholic Relief Services.

Our Guest of Honor, Ladies and Gentlemen
This year Conference is building on the conferences we have had the past two years. In July 2014 and 2015, the Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET) held two successful National Agriculture Policy Dialogue meetings entitled; Malawi Agriculture at 50: Towards a Common Vision for the next 50 years (in 2014) and Science and Technology for Agriculture Development (in 2015) respectively.

These dialogue meetings were aimed at providing space for the nation to take stock of what we have achieved in the past 50 years of independence in the sector of agriculture and also on how science and technology can be used as a vehicle to boost agricultural productivity in the country. The 2014 conference was also aimed at helping us learn from the shortcomings of the last half a century and propose pathways that the agriculture sector should take to transform further. So far, it is pleasing to note that most of the issues raised at the 2014 and 2015 National Conferences have been considered as part of the National Agriculture Policy, which has just been approved.Group photo

The 2014 conference also realized that as Malawi was clocking 50 years of independence; our agriculture sector was still reeling behind in terms of progress as compared to most of our neighboring countries. It was also noted that over the past 50 years, various Governments in Malawi had made rather limited progress in formulating policies and programs for modernizing and commercializing agriculture and reducing poverty. Among the issues that were noted during the two National Conferences as being the major contributing factor to this state of affairs in the Malawi's agriculture is the country’s failure to embrace an agriculture for development agenda as opposed to the current agriculture agenda which is more focused on food security.

This is what this conference this would like to deliberate upon. Additionally, these conferences noted that the country seems not to have a clear long term and inclusive vision for the agriculture sector. A vision that will guide the development of medium term frameworks like the ASWAp. We understand that the ASWAp is guided by the MDGS and other continental frameworks like the CAADP, and with the approval of the 4 year National Agriculture Policy, it will also help in guiding the ASWAp. However a long term vision for the agriculture sector will help guide the framing of the ASWAp in the context of these frameworks. At the same time, it will guide the strategic investments in those sectors that directly support agriculture development like energy, education, rural infrastructure, the industry and others.

Our Guest of Honor, Ladies and Gentlemen
Our vision as CISANET for the agriculture sector in Malawi, is a sector with a reduced number of people directly involved in primary production from the current 85% of the population to about 20%, to see a reduction in the agriculture’s direct contribution to the GDP from the current 40% to about 15% by the year 2050.

Our assumption is that the growth and development of agriculture would have triggered a growth in specialized industrial processing and services that will absorb the current agriculture labor force and also contribute more to the GDP thereby reducing the percentage contribution of agriculture. We see the demise of smallholder farming as we know and practice it today. CISANET believes that agriculture will remain the major economic activity for the country for many years to come; as such proper visioning will help policy and program planners to be well guided in this respect.

Our Guest of Honor, Ladies and Gentlemen
The participants to this year’s conference are expected to discuss and propose what should go into the new ASWAp and also the form in which agriculture should be presented as a priority sector in the MGDS III. We would also wish to initiate debate on what should be in the next long term vision in as far as agriculture development is concerned.

Honorable Minister, we have noted that the recently developed National Agriculture policy is setting up very ambitious targets like increasing agriculture output of major crops like maize by 100%, increasing value of export agricultural output by 50%, increasing number of agricultural technologies by 60% among others, within the next 4 years.

These targets are being set when agriculture in Malawi is facing numerous challenges like climate changes, severe soil and environmental degradation, increasing population and dwindling land holding among others. In as much as we believe that this is possible and applauding Government for this ambition, we would like to caution that unless there is strong leadership, serious planning and wise investments are done this policy is bound to fail. This year our agriculture output shrunk by about 12%, representing about 33% decline over the past 5 years average, now for us to double the agriculture output in 4 years we need to increase the output by an average of at least 25% per year in the next four years.

This kind of a turnaround will be a no mean achievement. As CISANET we believe that to achieve this dream we need to develop a robust agenda for developing agriculture in the next four years and beyond and should focus on boosting support for agricultural research and development, technology adoption as part of the larger agenda to promote agricultural innovations, present practical modalities for investments in enabling infrastructure and mechanization, building human capacity, stimulating entrepreneurship, value addition, and credit services and improving the governance of agricultural innovations and systems.

This year’s conference will among other look at these issues and bring proposals on how an agenda for agriculture transformation can be developed and implemented. Let me assure you Honorable Minister of our support to see to it that this policy is a success.

Hon Minister Ladies and Gentlemen
In defining the agriculture for development and transformation agenda we need to take cognizance of the fact that agriculture transformation involves implementing multi-stakeholder interventions simultaneously and coordinating a complex stakeholder landscape of agriculture. We should also note that agriculture growth and development is very much dependent on other sectors.

At the same time, it requires the development of a culture that continuously pilots, tests, monitors and adapts strategies and interventions for changing circumstances. Transformation also includes dealing with the challenges that appear in the process of change management especially among some stakeholders that are comfortable with the status quo. Every transformation that we have seen around the world, starts with a well-defined and clear vision, then a clear pathway of achieving that vision, it requires dedicated and displined leadership that will inspire joint action and mobilisation to achieve the set vision.

Hon Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen
We believe that Malawi has a lot to learn and should model its agriculture transformation approach on the successful path taken by countries such as Taiwan, Korea and Malaysia and more recently in Africa we have countries like Ethiopia and Rwanda that are following the path of these countries in terms of institutional modelling for agriculture transformation. The two main features in those countries models were:
1) a clear set of prioritised intervention to address the critical bottlenecks in a particular part of the economy and
2) a dedicated institution that support senior policy makers and key institution with strategic input on planning, coordinating, implementing, tracking, evaluation and refining prioritised intervention to address identified bottleneck.

As CISANET we are glad that Government is planning of coming up with a National Planning Commission with an aim of championing visioning of development and also coming up with medium term strategies to achieve the set vision and targets. We believe this is an opportunity to place agriculture at the centre of national development. We wish therefore to propose that within the Planning Commission, an Agriculture Transformation Unit, modelled on the Ethiopian Agriculture Transformation Agency has to be established that will oversee the development of the Agriculture for development agenda for Malawi.

This is based on an understanding that agriculture transformation is beyond the mandate of the Ministry of Agriculture as it is affected by other macroeconomic factors and other sectoral policies like Trade, Industrial development, energy and others. If this country is going to develop then agriculture needs to be given all the attention and seriousness it deserves. We propose that the next ASWAp must therefore focus on agriculture as a development agenda.

Hon Minister Ladies and Gentlemen
In closing my address, let me once again thank all of you for coming to participate in this conference but also above all to you honorable Minister for accepting to grace this occasion. As CISANET we will continue supporting your ministry’s effort to develop agriculture in this country.
Thank you very much for your kind attention and may God bless you.