Green revolution

Amid the general gloom, here is a good news story from a few days ago about a green revolution in Malawi which, I believe, illustrates some important principles.

Malawi, a thin sliver of a country between Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique is the thirteenth poorest country in the world. It has experienced six consecutive years of food shortage from 2000 resulting in widespread hardship and starvation.  Traditional farming techniques and seed strains could simply not produce enough food.  

The answer: give villagers vouchers exchangeable for fertilizers and improved higher-yielding seed varieties and help with crop diversification, irrigation (most of the country spreads out along the shores of Lake Malawi) and some basic science. 

The result has been rapid and dramatic.  Malawi has emerged as a regional food exporter sending maize all the way to Kenya even though the improved seed varieties are not particularly new and have been around for years. 

Inevitably, not everything in the garden is rosy.  High export prices means that there are still big pockets of food shortage among those Malawians who do not have access to suitable land (or alternative paid employment).  Yet the country is clearly far better off than it was only two years ago.  What was lacking was organisation and information.

So what lessons can we draw from Malawi?  I think there are two.

Firstly, a good analysis of the problem followed by iniatives that address the real isues gives a big return on effort.

Secondly, empowering ordinary people is the key.  Bottom-up, not top-down approaches work best. 

Needless to say both these principles are highly relevant to sorting out the credit crunch.

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