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Could a leaked cable lead to hunger in Africa?

June 2, 2011

A leaked cable that has sparked a row between Britain and Malawi could give rise to rural hunger in the impoverished southern African nation.

That is the upshot of the spiralling row that has seen Britain suspend aid including its support for a support for a highly successful seed and fertiliser programme in Malawi – and the government in Malawi stick to its guns despite the possible consequences for its people.

(Photo: Before the subsidies: An elderly Malawian peasant farmer describes her failed maize crop, May 25, 2002. Reuters: Howard Burditt)

The row, which we have been reporting on, stems from a leaked diplomatic cable that described Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika as “autocratic and intolerant of critcism.” Other western governments have also had concerns about human rights in Malawi, including a law that lets the government ban newspapers.

Whatever the merit of the arguments, the consequences may be felt most harshly by rural people.

Farm subsidies in the developed world are seen as obscene by some and are regarded as unfair to peasant farmers in regions like Africa who can’t compete with their European or American counterparts because of them.

And of course there is a whole debate about aid in Africa in general which is an occasional theme on this blog.

But the seed and fertilizer programme in Malawi — and a similar one in neighbouring Zambia — actually seems to be reaping real dividends.

Both countries, which are among the poorest on earth and have seen hunger shortages in the past (years ago I visited a Malawi village where people risked crocodile attack to harvest wild water lilies to eat), have been yielding bumper maize crops over the past few years, at least in part thanks to the subsidy programmes.

Malawi is expected to harvest 3.8 million tonnes of maize this year, up from 3.5 million the previous year, despite some dry periods during the year.

Growing harvests have helped annual economic growth to average a brisk 7 percent in the last five years and contain inflation to single digits. Food accounts for 58 percent of the consumer price index.

 But because of cutbacks to the programme, Malawi has already announced that this year it will only import 90,000 tonnes of fertilizer, half of last year’s amount.  And the number of farmers under the programme is also expected to be reduced from the 1.6 million families who have benefited from the subsidy, so hunger could increase in rural areas.

All because of a leaked cable? Or because of a president’s autocratic behaviour?


This is our problem in Africa, useless corrupt old leaders like this thing of Malawi. He does not care anything about the people, they can die so he can blame colonialism, racism and try win more support like that, hopefully the people will pull this dog through the street of Blantyre shortly

Posted by Thabo | Report as abusive

Hubris is an ancient Human Failing. It is particularly disappointing because President Mutharika delivered an outsize Gain for Malawi in this Agricultural Space. He turned Malawi into a Surplus Country at a time when Food Prices have simply accelerated and Food Prices now represent the greatest Risk to a number of African Governments, in fact.
I recall a time when I was at University and My bank Manager came and found me and he said

‘Aly-Khan I would like you to entertain the Novel Idea of You Banking with Us and Not Us with You.’

With Malawi having to fund 40% of its Budget via External Donors, The President would surely have been wiser to have swallowed his Pride and understood that Creditors have to be treated with some Care and thumbing your Nose up at them can have dreadful consequences for those on whose behalf You exercise Your Mandate.

Aly-Khan Satchu

Posted by AlyKhanSatchu | Report as abusive

Frankly,it may take both sides of the arguments.If the government in Malawi heavily depends on aid from side,he it must be ready to endure all sorts of criticisms thrown at it.In Africa,our political leaders do not care about the people they govern only themselves and think that they will get way with it by asking aid from the developed country without having reforms and spend the aid money wisely.And instead,they will find another ways where to put the money given to them,which is very sad indeed.I sometimes blame those giving away a huge chunk of money just to wasted unnecessary,especially ahead of elections campaigns in order to stay in power by hook or by crook.This has to stop and it is time for a new revolutions to oust these autocratic regimes who do not want to cede power for the benefit of their people who are suffering from malnutrition on the continent.

Posted by Asaki | Report as abusive

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