The calls were made in Blantyre during an Agro-Industrialization Conference organised by AICC. This comes at a time when economic and agricultural experts have said repetitively that it is possible to turn around the fortunes of this country from being a predominantly importing and consuming nation to a producing and exporting nation.
With many multilateral and bilateral agreements the country has entered into, output from the agricultural sector would best be subjected to value addition processes rather than the status quo where most of the agricultural produce is sold in its raw state to international markets thereby losing out on revenues.
On this note, Executive Director for AICC, Felix Lombe PhD, said the conference was fruitful as it brought out issues that are fueling stagnation of agro-processing in the country. He pointed out that low production; lack of skilled labour and inadequate investments in the sector has made us believe that Agro-Industrialization is a farfetched dream. He however believes that all actors in the agriculture sector can play a role to reverse the situation and start empowering small and medium farmers in value addition.
“The conference has brought together key players who can answer the question, ‘What is stifling agro-industrialization?’ such being the case after the deliberations we have come up with a communiqué that outlines key areas to be looked into. Such parameters have been clustered and will be further examined by specialists but also actors and stakeholders within those clusters. They will agree on what should be done in those clusters and we will follow up on progress against the issues raised in each cluster,” said Dr. Lombe.
Panelists taking questions from the floor
Another key issue coming out from most presentations was integration of the farmer at the onset of projects. Chief Executive Officer for Farmers Union of Malawi, Prince Kapondamgaga, said farmers need to be part of the equation if agro-processing has to scale up in the country.
“I think we speed up, we jump some steps, what I have noted is that farmers have machines but in the first place they even don’t know why they should have the machines, how the machine operates before they understand fully you tell them let’s move out the project is closing, let’s just train you on the exit strategy and then we blame farmers, I don’t think so…there are issues beyond the farmers agenda, ‘interests’ are contributing to problems with agro-industrialization in the country,” said Kapondamgaga.
The debate raged on with various key players in the industry making presentations and putting forth constructive arguments and propositions to make agro-industrialization work in the country. One of participants Flora Janet Nankhuni PhD , Chief of Party for New Alliance Policy Acceleration Support (NAPAS) who doubles as Senior Policy Advisor to the Ministry of Agriculture, applauded Malawi Confederation Chambers of Commerce and Industry MCCCI and AICC for organizing the conference that touched on the crucial aspect, agro-processing.
A farmer poses with locally processed cooking oil, the country's desired goal
She said, “The future of Agro-processing is very promising in this country. The high population rate and migration of people to urban areas poses a big opportunity for agro-processing business. Malawi is already a big market yet we are importing basic processed foods. This means if the bottlenecks in this area are removed then we will be saving forex as we will be buying locally processed foods thereby growing the economy.”
Making his presentation during plenary session, Bob Baulch PhD , Program Leader for Malawi Strategy Support Program said the problem at hand need a multi faceted approach one which is continous learning and benchmarking from other countries who have turned around their economies through agro-processing.
“I just want to provoke the thinking how tariffs or barriers can help grow the agro-processing industry locally. There’s long literature on this especially on Latin America Countries, how did they come out of this problem, maybe we can learn some aspects from these countries.”
Agriculture accounts for almost 90% of occupation in rural areas. This is the backbone of the country’s economy and in light of climate change that is posing a big risk to the sector; policy makers are banging heads on how to accelerate output which directly drives the manufacturing sector and the economy at large. AICC looks ahead to more action on the conference resolutions as that will make a difference in the agriculture sector.