Malawi's fertile planYOLANDI GROENEWALD - Jun 25 2009 06:00Four years ago Malawi faced starvation. The harvest had failed and the country had to import huge amounts of food to feed its citizens.
The Malawi government decided that this should not happen again. It devised a plan, central to which were small-scale African farmers, some of the most marginalised people.
The country's National Assembly decided to give 3.4-million coupons to small-scale farmers to subsidise inorganic fertiliser and improved seeds.
The programme was aimed at empowering small-scale farmers and households were limited to two 50kg fertiliser bags each.
When the 2006 season started the country held its breath. The strategy worked -- Malawi more than doubled its maize production. Realising that it was on to something, the government repeated the scheme. And in the 2007 season there was enough maize for the country to start exporting.
Kanayo Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, smiles as he talks about the success story that is Malawi. He praises the government for the support that it gave to small-scale farmers and for helping them to link to markets. But the smile turns to a frown as he talks about the hard work that still remains for the continent to ensure that it has a stable supply of food.
Nwanze visited South Africa two weeks ago to address the World Economic Forum about Africa's agricultural future. Since he took office in April, Nwanze has become a crusader for small-scale farmers and has urged governments to help these farmers to reach their full potential.
He said African governments had to invest in small farms to ensure food security for the continent's poor, particularly as the global financial crisis threatens aid funding.
"Food security is an integral part of national security. You can see when food prices increased last year and people were not able to feed themselves, it led to riots," he said. "Look at what happened in Haiti."
Africa is unique, he said, with just more than 80% of the continent's population being farmers. But they still had a long way to go to reach their full potential. "And these are mostly women and children," he said.Agriculture accounts for about 30% of sub-Saharan Africa's GDP, he said. And small-scale farmers represent 95% of agriculture on the continent.
"Smallholder agriculture is the largest private-sector activity in many African countries. It not only feeds families, it also provides jobs and catalyses the growth of rural businesses and broader development," he said.
The governments of Africa had to treat agriculture as a business. Investment into the sector had to take the form of giving inputs, such as fertiliser, and providing micro-financing to small farmers, who might not have access to collateral.
"Setting the right agricultural policies, as Malawi did, is critical," he said. "From there you can go on to build capacity. Also critical is to provide access to markets."
Nwanze said his organisation would lend a helping hand with both skills and financing where it was needed to help African governments if they ask for help.
He also spoke about the furore around statistics that showed Asian nations were buying vast tracts of land in Africa. The Mail & Guardian reported three weeks ago that there was concern that this might be the new neocolonialism of the 21st century with countries such as China and South Korea at the helm.
But Nwanze said he did not believe the investments were necessarily a bad thing for the continent, but rather an opportunity to get much-needed investment into African agriculture.
"If it is managed correctly, it becomes a win-win situation," he said. "I won't dismiss it as simple neocolonialism. You have to look at it as an opportunity."
Using Madagascar as an example, he said land had been bought by a South Korean multinational and this had led to instability in the government. But where land acquisition was done correctly, with transparent control measures in place, it could give a considerable boost to African agriculture.
Nwanze said African governments should become proactive to ensure that investment in land deals was used to its full potential and done on principles of sustainable development.
"It can't simply benefit a few elite," he said.
But he said big commercial farmers also had a large role to play in helping small-scale farmers to become successful. In South Africa there were wonderful examples of partnerships where small-scale farmers had benefited from the expertise of their bigger counterparts.
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- But good info for my childhoods class which will be doing projects on child labor. Maybe having the info will spur people to change things. I still hold out hope...How's the home solar project??KCOn Mon, Aug 24, 2009 at 9:26 AM, Christine Chumbler <wartpiggy@...> wrote:
Nothing to be proud of here, I'm afraid.
Malawi's child tobacco pickers 'poisoned by nicotine'Aug 24 2009 07:05Children in Malawi who are forced to work as tobacco pickers are exposed to nicotine poisoning equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day, an investigation has found.
Child labourers as young as five are suffering severe health problems from a daily skin absorption of up to 54mg of dissolved nicotine, according to the international children's organisation Plan.
Malawian tobacco is found in the blend of almost every cigarette smoked in the West. The low-grade, high-nicotine tobacco is often used as a filler by manufacturers, reflecting a long-term global shift in production.
Tobacco farms in America declined by 89% between 1954 and 2002. Three-quarters of production has migrated to developing countries, with Malawi the world's fifth biggest producer.
Seventy percent of its export income comes from tobacco and the country is economically dependent on it.
Plan cites research showing that Malawi has the highest incidence of child labour in Southern Africa, with 88,9% of five to 14-year-olds working in the agricultural sector. It is estimated that more than 78 000 children work on tobacco estates -- some up to 12 hours a day, many for less than 1p an hour and without protective clothing.
Plan's researchers invited 44 children from tobacco farms in three districts to take part in a series of workshops. They revealed a catalogue of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and spoke about the need to work to support themselves and their families and pay school fees.
The children reported common symptoms of green tobacco sickness (GTS), or nicotine poisoning, including severe headaches, abdominal pain, muscle weakness, coughing and breathlessness.
"Sometimes it feels like you don't have enough breath, you don't have enough oxygen," one child said. "You reach a point where you cannot breathe because of the pain in your chest. Then the blood comes when you vomit. At the end, most of this dies and then you remain with a headache."
GTS is a common hazard of workers coming into contact with tobacco leaves and absorbing nicotine through their skin, particularly when harvesting. It is made worse by humid and wet conditions, which are prevalent in Malawi, as residual moisture on the leaves helps nicotine to be absorbed quicker.
Everyday symptoms of GTS are more severe in children than adults as they have not built up a tolerance to nicotine through smoking and because of their physical size. There is a lack of research into the long-term effects of GTS in children, but experts believe that it could seriously impair their development.
Neal Benowitz, professor of medicine, psychiatry and biopharmaceutical sciences at California University in San Francisco, said: "Numerous animal studies have shown that administration of nicotine during infancy and adolescence produces long-lasting changes in brain structure and function, as well as behavioural changes that are not seen when nicotine is administered to adults.
"The brain of a child or adolescent is particularly vulnerable to adverse neurobehavioural effects of nicotine exposure."
Plan called on Malawi's government to enforce existing child labour and protection laws and on plantations to provide safer, fairer working conditions for those children forced to work. It demanded that multinational tobacco companies scrutinise their suppliers far more closely and follow their own corporate responsibility guidelines.
Macdonald Mumba, Plan Malawi's child rights adviser, said: "This research shows that tobacco estates are exploiting and abusing children who have a right to a safe working environment.
"Plan is calling for better enforcement of child labour laws and harsher punishment for employers who break them. These children are risking their health for 11p a day." - guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2009
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"...for f*ck’s sake, the only thing that privilege is good for is to try to help other people." –Junot Diaz