Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

Exclusive interview between His Excellency Ngwazi Dr Bingu wa Mutharika, State President of the Republic of Malawi & Chairman of the African Union and Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, FANRPAN CEO
4 May 2010

Malawi President Calls for Greater Cooperation in Africa to Improve Food Security

Article published by the Guardian, UK. Liz Ford., Tuesday 4 May 2010 11.05 BST

To view the interview footage click here.

Yesterday African leaders concluded that agricultural development is the most effective strategy for boosting economic growth in Africa. This was said during a plenary session on “A New Vision for African Agriculture: The “Engine for Growth” at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Dar es Salaam.

The Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) CEO, Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda had an opportunity to interview the President of the Republic of Malawi who is also the current Chair of the African Union, H.E. Ngwazi Dr Bingu wa Mutharika on his vision for Africa.

Dr Mutharika has pledged to work with other African heads of state to devise a sustainable programme on food security and establish an advisory body to improve agriculture across the continent. Dr Mutharika plans to set up what he called an African compact on food security to act as an independent advisory body to the African Union (AU) on agriculture and food issues.

In the interview Dr Mutharika said he would chair the compact for the next five years. "I'll invite about eight, nine heads of states that are committed to this [food security] programme and I'll invite international organizations, the Africa Development Bank, the World Bank, the European Union... and some of the countries in the G8, and say here's a programme, here's what we want to do, and sustain this within the context of the African green revolution," said the president.

Dr Mutharika's comments come as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launches a paper highlighting the risks to food security posed by climate change. The FAO report, Climate change implications for food security and natural resources management in Africa, published today, urges African governments to "prioritize and implement measures" to develop agriculture and sustainable resource management.

Dr Mutharika told Sibanda that smallholder farmers needed greater support to rise about subsistence level farming and said greater cooperation among African countries could overcome the problems of food security and poverty.

"Africa is not a poor continent, it's a rich continent," he said. "This is something that all African leaders must accept. We are sitting on riches, but the Africans themselves they are poor... We must begin to address that."

One of the challenges of poverty is food, he said.

"Why should Africa be unable to feed itself when it has vast amounts of land? We are told by experts that we are only using only about 8% of arable land in Africa. So what's happening to the other 92%? If we brought that under cultivation... clearly the situation would be different. Why are we not getting there?"

Five years ago Malawi took steps to improve the livelihoods of its farmers through a Farm Input Subsidy Programme. Under the programme farmers were given seeds, fertiliser and advice on sowing techniques. Within two years the country went from being reliant on food aid to becoming a net exporter of maize. Although not without its critics, the programme won praise from the international community.

"We fed Malawi in less than two years," said Mutharika.

He added: "In many African countries we are being fed by very small, small farmers... and then the question was how do we get these farmers to produce beyond subsistence and what are the challenges?"

He believes a package of "inputs" - improved seed varieties, fertilizers, access to extension services and markets – was required. "Indeed we did that five years ago and found the response to be absolutely tremendous. We were able to get people who previously could only produce three or four bags of maize or about 50kg a year, for instance, are now able to produce 15, 20, 25 [bags]. These people can go beyond subsistence, can feed themselves and also feed the nation."

The challenge now, he said, was to see if what had been learned in Malawi could be scaled up across the continent. This, said Mutharika, would involve better regional cooperation among African countries. He called for the creation of "databanks" that list which country produces which staple foods - "we have to know which staple foods we are using in the region and who can produce them" - and added that more energy sources, improved seed varieties and better transport and communication between states were key.

"At the moment we have what I call highways to nowhere. I'm saying this because you have a beautiful road up to maybe a kilometer before the border and on the other side they have also a beautiful road coming in up to 1km and then there is this streak. We are afraid to connect. We are afraid of each other. Why are we doing this? If we are in a regional economic community why are we not linking? ...Once we do that we then [start] upgrading, expanding this food security programme."

He said it was vital that African countries shared information with each other. He said the continent had all the information it needed to solve its problems, but heads of states needed to open up, "interact and share whatever challenges we have and find a common solution, and I think we can".

Mutharika promised to "fight and struggle to make sure that's realised, that five years from now we can have the food we need".

Around 1,000 leaders from 85 countries gathered in Dar es Salaam for the three-day World Economic Forum on Africa, which included a discussion on how stakeholders can work together to drive sustainable growth in agriculture and capture the region's agricultural potential. This year's event marks the 20th anniversary of the forum and the first time it has been held in east Africa.

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