October 6, 2008

Green belts to boost food production

President Bingu wa Mutharika has pledged to embark on a "green belt" programme to enable the country, in the long run, to say goodbye to hunger and international food aid. "Malawi appeals to the G-8 countries to support us to create a green belt around our lakes and along our rivers to irrigate land up to 20 kilometres from the shores. The Malawi government plans to grow a lot of rice, wheat, maize, millet, cassava, potatoes and beans for the local and international market," he recently told the United Nations General Assembly. Mutharika, who is also Malawi's minister of agriculture and food security, has been applauded for using a subsidy programme for fertiliser and seed to boost local production. In 2005/06 the full US $50 million price tag was met by the government as donors sat on the sidelines.
"The green belts, if implemented, would help us harvest crops all year round, thereby curbing any food shortages that haunted the country in the past. We have been blessed with abundant water resources, which can be used to make the green belts programme work," Mutharika already said in September. The green belts would stretch from Karonga, a town in the extreme north, near the border with Tanzania, to Nsanje, a town on the Shire River on the southern border with Mozambique.

Up to 90 percent of cultivated crops are rain-fed, but Malawi had numerous irrigation schemes along Lake Malawi and the Shire Valley. The new green belts initiative is likely to cover some of these irrigation programmes, most of which are either lying idle or underutilised. The government will also assist smallholder farmers establish their own irrigation schemes along Lake Malawi - Africa's second largest lake - to grow rice and maize.
Billy Banda, executive director of Malawi Watch, a social justice advocacy group, said the green belt idea was long overdue. Because of low output on insufficient land, over a third of farmers cannot produce enough and have to sell their labour for part of the year to buy food on the market. "There has to be political will to make this dream come into reality. Secondly, all Malawians should support the initiative without necessarily looking for outside intervention, because as a country we have all the resources to implement this ambitious initiative," Banda said. (IRIN)

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