Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Honourable Dr. George Chaponda, MP. Friends and colleagues. All protocols observed.
About two years ago I had the opportunity to stand right here and to welcome you to Malawi and a seminar to discuss food security in a climate context. I don’t know if any of you remember what I said, but I am sure you remember my awful Chichewa. It is still terrible, but I never give up. Therefore: Ndakulandirani nonse. Lero takumananzo pano. (I welcome you all and today we meet again here).
My big question when I came two years ago was the following: How can a country like Malawi be food insecure? With relatively fertile lands. With good access to water resources. With a hardworking people. With a political will and with a lot of international goodwill and support. How is that possible?
Malawi has made good progress in the past years in a number of areas. More children attend school. Infant mortality is going down. Stunting is going down. Fertility rates are going down. And in the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva last year, Malawi got international recognition for progress on a number of human rights issues.
But there are at least two sectors in Malawi that don’t see to enjoy the same kind of progress. One is economic development. Malawi is not able to create an economic development that keeps up with the population growth. The honourable minister of Finance, Goodall Gondwe, recognised this in his budget speech to Parliament in 2014. Since independence in 1964, he said, Malawi’s economy has grown three times. But our population has grown four times. We are not doing well enough, he concluded.
The other would be the issue of food security. Since 2000, some portion of the population has required food assistance every year. This year, a record 6.7 million people, or almost 40% of the population, is in need of external food aid to survive until the next harvest. We are worried that the situation of food insecurity may be becoming a permanent feature in Malawi, rather than being something than only occurs sporadically.
We know that this is partly a result of climate change. Malawi is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the effects of climate change. Malawi is becoming warmer and drier, and being largely dependent on rain fed agriculture grown by smallholders, crops are easily affected. The effects of weather phenomena like El Nino, causing floods last year, also hit the country hard. But it is not only manmade climate change and weather that causes humanitarian challenges. It is also caused by agricultural policies failing to adopt to changing circumstances. Reform is needed in Malawi, in the agricultural sector perhaps more than many other sectors.
The situation is quite similar in many other countries in the region as you all are acutely aware of.
Two concepts are getting attention in Malawi these days. Breaking the cycle of poverty and resilience. Discussing this with colleagues these concepts have different meanings in different circles. The irrigations specialists argue for the virtues of increased focus on irrigation. The seed breeders argue that improved varieties of seeds will do the job. The soil scientist claim that the farmer’s soils are depleted of carbon and must be rehabilitated before it can yield good harvests. The meteorological societies argue that more accurate weather predictions should have more focus. And many argue that a better policy framework needs to be in place, to make agriculture more productive, more profitable, more predictable and more sustainable.
The issue is not who is right and who is wrong. We need them all. The challenge is to improve coordination, make sure that policies do not overlap or contradict each other, and that they are properly prioritised. And, not the least, properly implemented. It is not the lack of strategies that is the bottleneck in Malawi. Lack of implementation is a much bigger one.
The formulation of a National Resilience Plan in Malawi by the GOM has been actively supported by the Development Partners. It is a good example where the Government and the development partners share a common agenda and even a common vision. But, work still remains. The NRP has clear shortcomings in areas like policy consistency between the NRP and other relevant policies, unclear coordination structures and priorities that are not clear enough.
Malawi has made good strides towards reaching several of the millennium goals established by the UN General Assembly in 2000 , particularly in the social sectors. Last year the MDGs were been replaced by the SDGS, the Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs are, as you know, a globally agreed system to monitor progress across a wide range of different sectors. 17 key goals have been agreed upon. Agriculture has in many ways a prominent role as it cuts across many of the SDGs. It is obviously of key importance for the SDG 2 which deals with food security. But agriculture is also a key dealing with climate issues and land degradation referred to in SDG 13 which and SDG 15 which focuses on sustainable use of ecosystems.
The 17 SDGs represent a global roadmap aimed at eradicating extreme poverty and ensure a just and sustainable development for all. It is a global agenda, but it will not succeed unless concrete actions are taken in each country, village and community. To build upon the success of the Millennium Development Goals it is important that the global roadmap is transferred into concrete actions on the ground. With limited resources available, coordination and prioritisation is even more important.
Norway will continue to play an important role in ensuring the success of the SDGs, with a particular emphasis of good governance, gender equality, education and health and food security – just to name the most important.
Most of the participants in this seminar have to some extent been or continue to be a part of programs and projects supported by Norway. Some from the different Norwegian Embassies, some from Norad and some through Norwegian support to various multilateral organizations. Many programs were supported under the Norwegian Strategy for Food Security with a climate perspective that came to an end in December last year.
It is my understanding that you have come to this seminar to sum up lessons learned over the years but also to point out a way forward – to find arenas for collaboration as wells as seek policy advice on how Africa will fight climate change. As I said earlier, food security is not something one can take for granted. Climate change certainly points to a very challenging – and perhaps bumby - road ahead of us
I hope that you will have useful deliberations over the next two days and that you all will return to your respective countries and institutions inspired and ready to continue your important work also in the years to come. You know what works on the ground. You know what can make Malawi and other countries in the region more food secure, climate smart and resilient. This knowledge is too important not to be brought to scale. This knowledge is too important not to be play a major part in policy development both at a national and regional level.
I wish you all the best.