Malawi’s president has launched a large-scale crop production initiative known as “mega farms,” aimed at boosting the country’s agricultural-based economy and help end persistent food shortages.
Malawi has long faced food shortages at both national and domestic levels each year. This, despite various efforts to boost agricultural production, including the Targeted Inputs Program, in which farmers buy seed and fertilizer at cheaper prices.
According to a report last month from the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, 4.4 million Malawians, representing 22 percent of the country’s population, are facing food shortages. And the situation is expected to worsen from October to March 2024.
Speaking during the televised launch of a mega farm in northern Malawi over the weekend, President Lazarus Chakwera said the program aimed to improve the country’s foreign exchange reserves and make the country food sufficient.
“This approach is also a game changer for our economy as a whole, because most of our forex revenue comes from farming. But given the forex challenges we have faced in the recent past as a consequence of debt left behind by past administrations, it is clear that our long-term solution has to involve boosting and intensifying agriculture productivity for exports.”
Minister of Trade and Industry, Simplex Chithyola Banda, said the ministry has already found markets for produce from the mega farms.
He said in June of this year, the Malawi government agreed with a foreign bank to build industrial parks in the capital, Lilongwe, and also the commercial capital, Blantyre.
“The aim of these industrial parks is to engage in agro-processing and value addition. What it means is therefore the mega farms already have the markets to offtake their produce, and this will spell the boom of economic growth in this country,” said Banda.
Executive director of the Farmers Union of Malawi, Jacob Nyirongo, says he hopes the mega farm program will help solve challenges facing small-scale farmers, like access to markets.
"Mega farms can become anchor farms and integrate small–scale farmers in the business model. So, through that integration, small-scale farmers can have access to advisory services. They can have access to credit, But also, they can have access to a market,” Nyirongo said.
William Chanza, executive director of an independent agricultural policy think tank in Malawi known by the acronym MwAPATA (Malawi Agricultural Policy Advancement and Transformation Agenda), said authorities should make more room for private investors to make the mega farm model sustainable.
“As also make sure that we address some of the policy barriers to private sector engagement in agriculture, especially market and exported related issues, so that when they invest and produce, they are able to take commodities on the export market,” Chanza told VOA.
President Chakwera said 800 medium- and large-scale farmers have so far registered to grow various crops in over 63,000 hectares of land to be cultivated during this year's growing season.