Diversify income,rural people told

Diversify income, rural people in Malawi told(stating the obvious?)

Post was last updated: March 17, 2023

The International Food Policy Research Institute (Ifpri) says rural households will increasingly need to turn to other jobs other than in the agriculture sector to escape poverty which is hovering at 57 percent.

In its analysis of employment options and challenges for rural households in Malawi, the institute says while farming remains the foundation of their livelihoods,  with over 93 percent of rural workers aged between 15 and 64 years employed in the sector, poverty headcount has a prevalence level of three times above that in urban centers at 19 percent.

Reads the analysis: “The principal economic activities for rural households across Malawi in the future will likely be much more diversified beyond agriculture alone than has been the case historically.

“For many, the human and financial capital necessary to obtain such sufficiently remunerative employment places such workout of reach for them.”

It says the common assumption that agriculture is at the centre of the livelihoods of rural households across Malawi no longer holds.

Malawi’s population remains predominantly rural, according to the 2018 Population and Housing Census produced by the National Statistical Office (NSO), with 84 percent of the population being rural residents and an annual population growth rate of 2.9 percent.

Similarly, poverty remains predominantly a rural phenomenon, with 94 percent of all poor households in Malawi are found in rural communities, according to NSO.

However, despite varied efforts by Malawi and its development partners since political independence in 1964, the country continues to experience weak economic growth.

Over the past 20 years, the share of the population living below the poverty line and unable to meet its basic consumption needs has remained at just over 50 percent.

In an interview on Tuesday, Centre for Social Concern economic governance officer Bernard Mphepo said there is need to improve on agricultural policies for the betterment of the rural poor, observing that mostly, it is the rich that are benefitting from agriculture.

He said: “The citizens are also failing to create an income and move out of poverty because the economy is failing to create jobs.”

Ellen Wajontha, a Rumphi-based farmer, says relying on farming alone has proved difficult over the years as income generated from farming business has not been reliable.

She said: “Now I juggle between farming and working as a shop-keeper otherwise, where will I get the resources to invest in my field?

“Prices of farm inputs have been volatile, so have prices of most basic necessities.”

Wajontha, however, said it is still difficult to afford most basics as the cost of living has become increasingly high.

Available data shows that agriculture sector employs around 85 percent of the workforce and contributes 40 percent to the gross domestic product and 80 percent of export earnings.

However, the country’s predominantly rain-fed, low-input smallholder agricultural system is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change as frequent droughts and floods destroy livelihoods and reduce households’ asset base.

Recently, the International Fund for Agriculture observed that in Malawi, rural poverty is driven by low agricultural productivity, scarcity of non-farm income opportunities, small-size of most farms, frequent droughts and flooding and limited rural coverage of social safety nets.

The stagnating poverty levels is parallel to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) goal number one of ending poverty in all its forms everywhere.

Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Sosten Gwengwe said financing for development has been another key challenge.

“To enhance SDG financing, Malawi has put in place deliberate efforts to go beyond conventional means of financing to include more private sector involvement, non-concessional loans and other financing instruments in the development space to allow for constructive SDGs- related investment in various sectors of the economy,” he said.

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