By Osward Lutepo on Nyasatimes
An excerpt from ‘My way of writing’ a soon to be launched book written by ‘cashgate’ prisoner Osward Lutepo.
“On the economic challenges and proposed turn around strategies for Malawi”
Following the withdrawal of aid by Malawi’s major donors due to the cash gate revelations and poor harvests that have been rocking this country in recent years, the country’s economy has continuously been nose diving that it is no hidden fact that currently our economy is in a very bad state, a situation that calls for urgent intervention to avoid an imminent economic catastrophe such as hyper inflation from hammering the country’s already fragile economy.
An economy that is sick is characterised by a decline in the quality and efficiency of public services, an increase in unemployment rate, an increase in business scale down, increase in poverty levels, increase in crime rate, and increase in illiteracy levels and above all the absence of buying power which are all manifesting in our country today.
First of all let me thank the current leadership for openly inviting all those that may have solutions to the current economic challenges to come forward and contribute so that an economic turnaround can be experienced. As a matter of fact this is no time for wasting time with unproductive criticism rather it is time for those with positive and progressive developmental ideas to come forward with their proposed solutions which if engaged could help in positively turning round the economy of this country.
Because our economy is in critical condition and in dire need of urgent solutions we need to employ the short term approach in order to resuscitate it and there after employ the medium term approach and eventually employ the long term approach.
We all know that our economy is agro based and any challenges big or small in the agriculture sector are likely to cause devastating shock waves in our already fragile economy therefore proper taming of our agriculture sector is key to our economic turnaround with little or no support from donors.
Currently when we talk of agriculture, mostly we refer to rain fed farming activities since most farming areas are located up land far from surface water like streams, rivers, water reservoirs and lakes rendering them hard or impossible to irrigate as a result reliance is on rainfall a situation that does not guarantee bumper yields due to the erratic rainfall patterns that the country experience often times.
Even if we are to enhance irrigation activities in all areas that are advantaged to be irrigated the benefit cannot be that significant to completely turnaround the economy though it is still important to enhance irrigation farming in all the areas that have easy access to surface water since it still is a step in the right direction like the green belt initiative.
Since there are no other cheaper means that can be employed to turn the economy around quickly apart from agriculture the best is to look at how best can we approach agriculture so that it can be rewarding to an extent that the country should experience an economic turnaround.
One thing for sure is that there is a lot of underground water that can be tapped through shallow wells system and use the water for irrigation in most upland areas.
This shallow well system of irrigation is no new idea at all as even the Egyptians have used it in their shadoof Irrigation systems which are still in use in other parts of the world. If every farm land is to have its own well then every farmer will be able to farm crops twice or three times in a year even if it were to be on one acre or two acres of land for sure the economy can turn around much quickly than expected.
If the dream of one of the former leaders of turning Malawi from an importing nation to an exporting nation are to be realized then “the well a farm” strategy should be quickly adopted otherwise our dream for a robust economy can be just wishful thinking”.
This well irrigation system is the short to medium term strategy since some wells may not survive in the long term but can still be a solution while government is working on other long-term irrigation systems that would require heavy investment costs. The advantage of wells are that once the spot where water is closer to the surface has been identified they are cheaper and faster to dig as a result irrigation farming can commence soon after completion of boring the well and within three to four months positive results would start to manifest themselves. These wells can in the medium term be supported with rain water harvest mechanisms and in the long term proper irrigation system that would take water upland from reliable water sources. The two or three times a year cropping or farming system would enable farmers to generate income throughout the year thereby increasing their buying power , reducing the poverty levels as well as illiteracy levels and reduced crime rates.
Buying power on the part of farmers is created through income generated from farm proceeds and the increase in farming activities due to the well irrigation system would lead to an increase in agriculture produce yields throughout the year a situation that would encourage the mushrooming of many agro based industries that would provide employment to many thereby helping to reduce unemployment, and because of the abundance of produce in the rural areas most agro based industries will establish themselves in the rural areas thereby boosting rural infrastructure development as well as help in the reduction of the rural urban migration and on top of that through their various activities help in boosting domestic tax revenues as well.
In addition to that it would also lead to increased production of import substitute products which will help in large savings of forex expenditure as well as increased exports that would lead to an increase in forex generation.
Talking of import substitutes Malawi as a country imports a lot of petrol and diesel and through massive farming of sugarcane Malawi would end up relying more on ethanol fuel and experience reduced imports of petrol and savings in forex spent on petrol imports.
Massive growing of oil bearing seeds like Soya, sunflower, ground nuts, cotton, and many others would help in production of the much needed biodiesel to be used in the diesel powered vehicles and help reduce imports of diesel this would go a long way to save forex spent on the importation of diesel.
At the same time farmers would have a reliable and steady market for their sugarcane as well as for the oil bearing seeds meaning that farmers will be generating income continuously hence the automatic increase in buying power.
To produce biodiesel and ethanol, processing industries will have to be established either through public private partnerships or privately owned companies or through statutory corporations whichever way creation of employment will be guaranteed as well. In the process of producing the bio fuels by-products like the de-oiled high protein cakes besides being used locally for various uses like stock feed and human food in the form of soya cakes and Chiponde, most of it would be exported to generate the much needed forex that the country needs. In addition to that increased production of oil bearing seeds would help in reducing the volumes of imported cooking oil and also save on forex spent on importing cooking oil.
What people should know is that by exporting unprocessed produce we are helping to create employment in the countries where the various unprocessed produce are being exported to and creating pressure on your forex demand since you have to import back the finished products from the same raw produce you had earlier on exported.
Most oil producing countries are economically stable and if we resort to producing our own bio-fuels our economy will become stable because the money that is taken out to bring in fuels will be circulating within the country. As such unemployment rate will reduce tremendously in the process reducing poverty and all challenges that come along with it.
With buying power increased through income generated from the various farming activities and earnings from employees of the various agro-based industries, both domestic as well as import duty tax revenues would increase making the government much more liquid to enable it to efficiently and sufficiently execute public services delivery.
Government will be more liquid just because with the increase in income generation and the abundance of foreign currency, demand for both local goods where government collect excise and value added taxes as well as demand for import goods where government collect import duty taxes and excises will increase as well.
On top of that government as a way of motivating its citizens to be ensuring that most of their purchases are accompanied with tax receipts, can introduce a VAT percentage claim on every VAT that they have paid in the process of buying their consumer goods because government can only account for the money which has been recorded to have been collected and not the money that has not been collected.
Most Malawians are not interested in seeing that government gets its share from the money that they have paid for so the tax incentive in the form of them claiming back a percentage of the VAT paid on their tax receipt would go a long way in ensuring that they insist on being issued with a tax receipt upon their purchase of consumer goods.
Currently government is losing a lot of tax revenues through failure of consumers insisting on being issued with tax receipts as a result the onus to declare how much should be paid as VAT solely relies on the trader who can decide to evade the payment of the VATs through under declaration of sales.
For this to be achieved government should come up with a policy to ensure that most vehicles in the country should be running on the bio fuels and this would lead to an automatic demand for oil bearing seeds to meet the volumes of seeds required to produce sufficient fuels.
In short we are saying that with the well irrigation system poverty levels are going to be greatly reduced since income is going to be generated almost throughout the year, and with the availability of money illiteracy levels are going to be heavily reduced since most people will be able to afford to pay for their children’s education costs, and with reduced poverty levels and increased literacy levels crime rate is going to be tremendously reduced in the process reducing congestion levels in prisons especially on poverty related crimes and ignorance related crimes.
The fact to note is that if care is not taken “crime breeds crime” owing to the fact that if a parent or guardian gets incarcerated in prison what becomes of the sons, and daughters and wives of the convict if their lives were solely reliant on the convicted person? Sons stand higher chances of becoming potential criminals due to being school drop outs and daughters and wives could easily end up being potential prostitutes due to lack of financial support for basic needs and lead to the spreading of deadly diseases to society a situation that leads to more orphans and widowed spouses which lead to the prevalence of street kids, school drop outs and the vicious circle continues.
So the solution to all these problems is to nip the genesis of all these challenges in the bud by introducing the well irrigation farming system so that wealth to the people can be achieved. When people have wealth the government will have wealth but if a country is full of poor people its government also runs on empty coffers because there is nowhere else to collect revenues in terms of tax revenues from. A country with poor people is like a thin cow where milk production is almost zero. So the best way to trigger the economic rebound is to come up with various income generating strategies and cost cutting strategies.
The well irrigation system happens to be one of the many available income generating strategies as it has been elaborated above while amongst many one of the cost cutting strategies is the proper utilization of prisoners. When government has no funds infrastructure development stalls, yet with proper utilization of prisoners many projects can be done at a reduced cost rather than relying on hiring private contractors who would demand a lot of money which is even not there to do similar works and because of the bad economic situation many projects have either stalled or have not even commenced. Government would use the prisoners to carry out most works at a reduced cost and these reduced cost would go a long way to prepare the prisoners for a reformed life after prison since it is not good to take back a desperate person and an unreformed person to the free world from prison just because of lack of resources at the end of their term.
While our efforts are geared towards economic turnaround strategies, we should also not forget to work on the environmental issues as one way of restoring the lost natural resources through the make Malawi green campaign. Tree planting exercises should not just be symbolic but serious business whereby real and proper accurate statistics of the actual number of trees planted that year should be taken into account.
On top of that proper systems should be put in place to access the survival rate of the trees planted and other environment protection measures, successes and failures.
One of the known factors that have led to deforestation is the burning of charcoal for cooking fire. Efforts to combat this challenge are always futile due to the absence of cheaper alternatives to charcoal. The problem is that little effort has been done to research alternative cheaper sources such as production of gas from assorted manure including human manure for production of cooking gas and the remaining manure after extraction of gas and electricity could be used in the farms as organic fertilizer in the form of manure. The make Malawi green campaign would entail the pumping of water from lakes, rivers and perennial streams to dry up lands for irrigation and aforestation programmes.
As an ambassador against crime and corruption and as an advocate for the rights of the vulnerable l strongly feel that the continued decline of the economy has a direct link with the increase in crime and corruption which l have dedicated myself to fight .
By rights of the vulnerable my focus is on the underprivileged such as the homeless, street kids, wives and sons and daughters of convicts who are incarcerated in prisons and orphaned children because the absence of care for these underprivileged groups is a potential breeding ground for the crime and corruption as well as diseases.
The problem with most Malawian is the pull him down syndrome and laziness. Most Malawians have developed a tendency of heavily relying on free things and hand outs. Let us learn to work hard and desist from the handouts behaviours as they are retrogressive to development efforts. We should also learn to support each other and not to derail each other. Malawians should stop the spirit of what is in it for me first then I can propel the program or project and if there is nothing for me then nothing happens.
Another problem with most Malawian is that we like hiding information from those that could have benefited from it. We also like to suppress each other’s progress under the disguise of lack of capacity yet we all know that capacity can be built and in the process favouring foreign individuals and companies at the expense of the locals especially when it comes to the awarding of government contracts. Malawians are the only people who celebrate the failures of their fellow citizens and pride in the success of foreigners instead of sympathising and praying for them. Malawi is a country that talks of being a God fearing nation with little or nothing that is walked in line with the talk. Its only when we change that we can move Malawi forward. We can eradicate hunger, disease and envy by being truly God fearing and genuinely loving as well as hardworking people.
lf Malawians are to be motivated into hard working people , the well irrigation system of farming will be a success as it is labour intensive since it requires drawing water manually from the well and carry them to the area where watering of the crops will be done but as time goes by through income generated from the farming proceeds solar powered irrigation pumps and tanks , and pipes could be acquired by the farmers and help to reduced labour demand and a greater savings on time spent to irrigate the farm lands and also would go a long way to increase the area of land to be irrigated hence an increase in production.
It is my prayer that the relevant authorities would take these proposals seriously and scrutinize them as this would help to motivate and encourage farmers to adopt the well irrigation farming system so that most farmers can have opportunities to practice two to three cropping sessions in a year and enjoy the benefit of earning income two to three times in a year as opposed to once a year as is the case now .
The well irrigation system would also come in a handy in times of dry spells and offer a guarantee for bumper harvests throughout the year .
Together we can make Malawi a better place to live in.
The author Osward Lutepo is serving an 11-year sentence after he was convicted for conspiracy to defraud the government and money laundering K4.2 billion in 2013.