HomePoliticsHow Malawi achieved a bumper maize harvest

How Malawi achieved a bumper maize harvest

By Ibbo Mandaza

IT should be of particular interest to Zimbabweans, whose government had in 2007 to import 400 000 tonnes of maize from Malawi, to know how the latter wa

s able to produce a bumper maize harvest of 1,5 million tonnes when the former “bread basket” of Southern Africa could account for a mere 1,3 million tonnes during the 2005/2006 and 2006/2007 agricultural seasons. This is quite apart from a land reform exercise that should have constituted the foundation for higher agricultural production in Zimbabwe than had been the case during the heyday of the monopoly of 4 000 white farmers.

For Zimbabwe’s financial outlay to the various sectors of agriculture for the two seasons was a whopping $9 trillion (or about US$36 billion) compared to the US$12,1 million which the Malawi government allocated through the Malawi Social Action Fund (Masaf) project. Sources say out of the $9 trillion which was doled out by the Reserve Bank through the Aspef loan facility over the last two seasons, only $1,5 trillion was recovered. Considered in tandem with the poor harvest, the extent of wastage in Zimbabwean agriculture can only be described as monstrous.

The critical point is that the Masaf project is a resounding lesson in the management of a food production process, with limited financial resources but an enormous social base in the form of a highly mobilised peasantry and administered through the local authorities, district leaders and village wards.

It is a lesson which Zimbabwe would do well to emulate as it embarks on the 2007/8 season. Reports that a similar project proposal failed to pass the scant scrutiny of cabinet in Harare a few months ago is, of course, disturbing. But it cannot be too late to mobilise the requisite support on the basis of an orchestrated celebration of the Malawi model. Perhaps the Reserve Bank could quickly study and adopt the Malawi precedent and thereby modify the monetary policy outline with particular reference to agriculture and the production of food crops.

Malawi drought (2004-5)

Malawi experienced serious droughts in the 2001/2002 and 2004/2005 growing seasons. The Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) estimated that close to 4,2 million people would need food assistance in the 2005/2006 season.

Out of these, 2,6 million were deemed to be at highest risk. This prompted the Malawi government, with the support of a World Bank unit headed by Nginya Mungai Lenneiye, to institute, through the Masaf project, a public works programme — conditional cash transfers (PWP-CCT) over the months October-December 2005. The plan was to transfer cash income to vulnerable households to enable them to buy food and agricultural inputs for the 2005/2006 season.

The PWP-CCT programme

This was an emergency drought relief programme to be implemented through the Local Authority Managed Projects (LAMPs), a conventional public works programme which Masaf had been implementing for the past 10 years. So, how does LAMPs operate?

Beneficiaries are paid a wage which is 20% lower than the market wage; the local leadership, with assistance from the local authorities (LAs) select the beneficiaries; only one person per household is eligible to work under the programme. The conditional cash transfer of 1 000 Malawi Kwacha (MK) or US$7,20 is made on the basis that a beneficiary worked on a public works programme for 10 days. Therefore, beneficiaries were to work for eight hours per day at MK 100 per day so as to enable them, after working on the programme for 10 days, to buy a subsidised 50kg bag of maize and one 50kg of fertiliser.

So, Masaf allocated US$12,1 million to the LAs for the programme: 80% of the funds were earmarked for wages; 18% for works; and 2% for administrative expenses. The programme was meant to benefit 565 281 directly or 3,1 million, including indirect beneficiaries (5,5 people per household).

Key to the success of this PWP-CCT exercise was also an intensive information, education and communication (IEC) campaign which preceded it, and was targeted at would-be beneficiaries, traditional, religious and political leaders. The staff of the local authorities were also targeted as the implementers of the programme. The main focus of the messages was on the design principles, objectives and implementation arrangements of the programme, including the conditionality thereof. For, it was vital that the communities understood both the content and import of the PWP-CCT programme.

The LA staff were also very conversant with the design, principles and procedures of the PWP-CCT. According to a project evaluation report, this was attributed to the excellent IEC mounted by Masaf just prior to and during the implementation period. “IEC preceding implementation is therefore a critical success factor for such a programme,” the report emphasised.

Implementing the programme

As has already been mentioned, the total resources available to the programme were US$12,1 million. This was allocated to all the districts, based on the population most at risk due to food shortages as estimated by the MVAC. In turn, Masaf prepared special project implementation and financial management guidelines. These were provided to every district, all of which opened special PWP-CCT bank accounts into which resources for wages and works were deposited. The district administration costs amounting to 2% of the total PWP-CCT costs were deposited in the normal Masaf district operational costs bank account.

In addition to the standard cheque-signing arrangement under the LAMPs, a signatory from the district agricultural office was incorporated under the programme so as to strengthen the verification system. Also, special security arrangements were made to minimise the risk of transferring wages to beneficiaries.

Significantly, wage payments to the beneficiaries were always made on time, efficiently and there were no cases of “ghost workers”. The lesson learnt was that LAs have the capacity to manage and pay emergency PWP-CCT beneficiaries on time.

Most of PWP-CCT projects were on road construction but there were some on agriculture and food security. The projects were supervised by the LA under the LAMPs, supplemented by Masaf which sent supervision teams to each LA, to monitor and support the implementation of the PWP-CCT.

The results

By the end of January 2006, Masaf had disbursed US$12,1 million to all 28 district assemblies — a total of 1 838 projects were spread across Malawi’s three regions. These projects directly benefited 504 012 individuals, which translates to 89,2% of the set target of 565 281 people. As per the design, after the PWP-CT was over, beneficiaries would get cash transfers under existing LAP projects, thus raising the number of beneficiaries above 504 012 facilitated by existing LAMP projects. Beneficiaries used their wages to buy food and seed. Most PWP-CCT beneficiaries were targeted and one the fertiliser was distributed to the rural area, acquired and used the government sponsored fertiliser coupons.

It had been feared that the wages would be misused by the beneficiaries. On the contrary, reports from implementation support teams indicated that most beneficiaries acquired fertiliser coupons using their wages. In general, the beneficiaries used the cash earned on food, seed and fertiliser as these were considered necessities. They were also able to purchase other items such as soap, second hand clothes, contribute to payment of house rentals and school fees for children.

With a total of MK2 000 at the end of 10 days, beneficiaries indicated that they were able to purchase two bags of 50 kg fertiliser and maize seed. In addition, with relatively good rains experienced in many parts of the country, beneficiaries said their harvest levels had improved over those achieved in the previous season. Where improved yields were mentioned, communities (in eight of the 16 LAs where the exercise was conducted) said that the money assisted in purchasing subsidised fertiliser, and that this had contributed to the bumper harvest realised in the 2005/2006 season.

Also, it was reported in nine LAs that the wage per day was adequate when compared with rates on other sources of employment or piece work, especially in the rural areas. It is also worth noting that the purchase of fertiliser was made possible by a parallel government initiative of farm inputs subsidy to enable low-income groups to access at least one bag and seed to improve their crop production. Moreover, if there had been no parallel initiative of the farm inputs subsidy, the cash would not have been adequate to meet the cost of these inputs.

The outputs of the programme were also significant and contributed to the improvement of life in the communities. These outputs, produced from the public works programme, included roads, woodlots and small-scale irrigation schemes. As a result of accessible roads, the communities mentioned that they are now able to transport their produce to markets and vehicles were able to use the road whereas this was not possible previously.

This has enabled easy communication. Communities were therefore happy with the outputs, especially roads that had been created and were improving access to other social services. Small-scale irrigation schemes also ranked highly among the outputs created, as these would continue assisting households increase their yields beyond the project.

* Mandaza is a political economist.

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