Sunday, January 2, 2011

Is Malawi's 'green revolution' a model for Africa?

woman selling fruit at marketFood is plentiful at Ekwendeni's street market

The road side market in Ekwendeni, in Malawi's northern region, is bustling.

Piles of mangos, sacks of maize flour and large pots of peas and beans glisten in the afternoon sun. But six years ago it was a very different scene.

"When we had acute hunger, you wouldn't have found people selling peacefully like this. It shows that people are food secure. Supply has overtaken demand," says Edgar Bayani, a local agriculturalist who remembers when Malawi suffered severe food shortages.

He attributes today's bountiful food supply to a combination of good rains and the government subsidy programme.

'Ruining the soil'

The poorest farmers get 40% off the cost of fertilisers and seeds, as part of a scheme that has turned Malawi from begging bowl to bread basket.

In 2005 Malawi had experienced six successive years of food shortages, but since subsidies were introduced in 2006, they have had back-to-back food surpluses.

But is it sustainable? Mr Bayani says not.

"The fertiliser itself ruins the soil fertility and soil structure. It changes the chemical constitution. And economically we can't sustain it because it's funded by donors."

Down the road from the market is Ekwendeni's hospital where Canadian researchers started a project called Soils, Food and Healthy Communities (SFHC) to help local farmers grow more diverse crops, including legumes like soya, pigeon-pea and groundnut, a much-needed source of protein.

Continued here