Don’t ignore rural people

Poverty alleviation, poverty reduction and eradication have been the concerns of successive governments in Malawi since independence. However, poverty is largely the problem of the rural people.

It is, however, worrisome that Malawi’s development policies are bent towards capital intensive growth oriented strategies. One wonders how some big projects implemented on borrowed money would translate into national poverty reduction.

I am not against ideas such as the Bingu National Stadium, but in any case, when monies are borrowed in the name of Malawians, policy makers need to look at the project’s larger utility and intrinsic value to the citizens. How many state of the art irrigation schemes or water harvesting dams would have been constructed across the country with the same amount of money spent on projects that only benefit a few?

In the 1970s, Hastings Kamuzu Banda launched the Rural Development Programme (RDP), which saw the birth of most of the rural growth centres standing to date. Taking an integrated approach, these RDPs were centres of integrated development projects, which bordered on key areas of agriculture-on and off farm, health and hygiene, education, rural infrastructure development, including construction of feeder roads that made it easier for smallholder farmers’ to access the structured market-Agricultural  Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc)-for their agricultural products.

Being  a funded project, Malawi failed to adopt and  incorporate the development philosophy into its national development plan and budgets. RDPs provided spaces for broad-based rural development. They were clusters for integrated rural development spreading across the country. If this approach was supported and brought to its logical conclusion, many of the areas surrounding these RDPs would have been big growth points by now. Actually, the One Village One Product (Ovop) initiative would have found these as entry points.

The mushrooming of local and international organisation has worsened the working structures in rural development. Instead of building on the existing structures they are introducing their own. This has only confused the rural masses. Impact of their work has been little compared to the amount invested. One reason is based on the sectoral approach to rural development, which has failed a rural Malawian. Rural people face multiple challenges and are trapped in interlocking disadvantages.

When these organisations get food security funding, within the implementing period, they realise that its success depends not only on agriculture-related interventions, but many others, such as education and health, which border on human well-being.

However, conditions of donor monies make it impossible for the organisations to change the approach to address the real emerging and pressing issues. For instance, access to potable water tops the development priority for the rural poor, yet the government leaves this responsibility to development partners, who have their own priorities.

It paralyses any sane minds on how the government leaves rural development programmes mainly to organisations. There is a widespread fallacious belief that organisations by virtue of being small, innovative, participatory, relatively independent would be successful in reaching the rural poor. Oftentimes, budget items on rural development are indicated as to be covered by the so-called ‘development partners.’ Apart from focus on ‘consumption budget lines’ our governments are pre-occupied with development of the ‘cores’ at the expense of the majority rural ‘peripherals’.

Ironically, everyone agrees that the rural poor must be the central focus in bringing about development. However, there has been lack of a comprehensive strategy to address rural poverty. Caution to politician! Forget the rural poor in your manifestos and forget their vote in 2019! n

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