The war between Russia and Ukraine which started on 24th February, 2022 is feared by almost all countries that it is and will continue to destabilize the economies of the world because of the interdependence of sovereign nations in this globalized world. Both Russia and Ukraine are key players in the global economy particularly in Agricultural sector – combined, they are the main producers of wheat (30%), Maize/corn (65%), Sunflower (65%), in addition to gas and organic fertilizers. All these are not just produced for their own consumptions, but for exports and now, the war has disrupted the supply chain.
Malawi is far away from these two countries (Russia/Ukraine) but cannot remain complaisant that it is well insulated from any shocks arising from the consequences of the war based on the fact that a) imports are more than exports (66%/33%), b) high debt level, c) weak power-value of the currency, d) over reliance on traditional farming methods, e) prohibitive lending rates in response to instability of the economic environment, e) limited usage of modern technology, among others.
In spite of these challenges, Malawi is a hopeful nation and with hard-working people always looking into future for better tomorrow. Malawi has hope in the MW2063 vision which provides a framework/roadmap for turning herself into a self-reliant nation with a minimum per capita income of $4000. We are on a journey of “Transforming Malawi into a Middle-income economy”.
However, we have had such plans before but never realized significant positive results for the country. Vision 2020 is an example here. Also, there was no concern about the war at the time Mw2063 vision was crafted and launched. Now, Malawi is in the process of implementing the first portion (10 years) of 2063 vision amidst the Russian/Ukraine war and already prices of maize are already high (K12,500) in some areas and fertilizer prices are already pegged at K50,000 -70,000 in most reliable retail shops like Agora. In addition, unemployment is growing and in short life is becoming economically harder for many people. Two key questions which arise are: Will this war have any influence on Malawi’s food security? Will the First 10 years of Mw2063 implementation plan be successful?
INFLUENCE OF THE WAR ON FOOD SECURITY
The world has become a global village because of the interconnectedness, interdependence, and sharing of information with advancement of technology. As mentioned earlier, what happens in one country affects all others. It is therefore right to contend that the inversion of Ukraine by Russia has negative impacts on Malawi’s food security. Some of these are:
High food prices – combined Russia and Ukraine are the main producers of cereals such as maize, wheat, and sunflower in the world. For example, Ukraine exported $2.9b of agricultural products to Africa in 2020 and 48% of wheat. Republic of South Africa (RSA) imported $132.32m of cereals –and remember, RSA is our business hub in this region of Africa. Now that there is this war, farmers have left their farms and left to seek refuge in neighboring countries, Transport infrastructure is destroyed, and priority is not on agriculture but on how to save lives and win the war. This will bring scarcity of food to all those countries that directly depended on Russia/Ukraine cereal exports.
Although we may now not directly associate the soaring prices of maize (K12,500/bag) with the war, there is high probability that food prices will not go down because of the negative pressure exerted by the war on food and in addition to the depreciation of the local currency in response to dismal productivity and market behavior.
High prices and scarcity of agricultural inputs particularly fertilizers – Malawi as a nation, depends on chemical fertilizers from other countries. Russia is the 4th largest producer of chemical fertilizers and with the war, scale of production is reduced. Even if it were to produce, sanctions leveled against Russia are blocking it to export fertilizers. One would expect competitive regional fertilizer auctions in which the rule of thumb is “the rich buys it all”!!!
Dwindling of food aid – Malawi receives a lot of aid from many developed countries through international charitable organizations like World Food Program (WFP). Sources of funding to these organizations are from individuals, corporations, and even public resources. But the war has disturbed businesses (in Russia and Ukraine) thereby reducing incomes of individuals and corporations. There is therefore a potential danger that donations received by these organizations which in turn are used to reach out to Malawi will go down. Food insecurity is there for a good number of people who look forwards to food donations.
Health care and non-productivity of small scale farmers due to sicknesses – Along the line of thinking that food security is at stake in the country is the contention that people that do not eat good nutritious food are vulnerable to sicknesses and hence cannot be productive in their gardens. About 80% of Malawians live on subsistence farming and these cushion hunger crisis in the country. However, with the looming food crisis, malnutrition cases shall increase and people shall spend time nursing their loved ones instead of going to gardens.
Increased crimes leading to general food insecurity –This year’s harvest is below the minimum as signified by the high selling prices. Chances are therefore high that some of those in dire need of food may resort to theft as a means for sustainability. This may also be exuberated by the broken food supply chains from main food producers like Russia and Ukraine.
IMPLEMENTATION OF THE FIRST 10 YEARS OF VISION 2063
Amidst this looming food insecurity which directly affects agricultural productivity, is the vision of turning Malawi into a self-reliant nation with a minimum per capita income of $4000 by 2063. We are in the foundational years (first ten years from 2021 – 2030) of this desired destiny for Malawi. Some may be skeptical if this can be achieved, but others (and I support them) are of the opinion that it is possible to optimize agricultural productivity and commercialize the sector on condition that all people are helped to uphold and participate actively in this dream by:
Ensuring that practical programs are put in place for the enablers especially “mind-set change” and “effective governance” are understood and seen by all to be authentic. We are in the second year of the first 10 years, yet majority of the youth who are the potential beneficiaries of this vision are not conversant with it or don’t know there is this vision.
Being honest with people about food insecurity in the country and not promising them free food which shall not be there. Some promises mainly made on political podiums to gain cheap popularity hinder cultivation of hardworking spirit. If free food, cheap fertilizer, good life are promised on a silver platter, who will work?
Intensifying agricultural cooperatives as hubs for learning new ways of farming, control of post-harvest losses, and bargaining for better prices.
Instilling an investment culture – this vision Mw2063 is an investment plan for the country. Yet, most Malawians seem to believe that investment comes from spill overs not sacrifice. It is important that deliberate programs targeting the grassroots should dwell on investment as a sacrifice.
Policy makers should re-look at the land law. There are those with vast idle land (may be handed over to them by their ancestors) but are not using it for years. Such people create land scarcity and food insecurity in the country.
The war between Russia and Ukraine is truly feared to increase food insecurity. Malawi as a nation cannot be left out in this globalized world. However, in problems are also opportunities. It is important for all Malawians to know and understand the dream (vision 2063) and adhere to the enablers mainly mind-set change and effective governance at least in the first 10 years of the plan. There is nothing that can stop Malawi from transforming herself into a middle-income economy if all choose to change.