Yohane and his wife of 35 years have been farmers for the last 30 of those years. They cultivate their crops in Lundu Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Chigaru, in Blantyre District with impressing energy and commitment.
The garden stands at one acre and the two look forward to a day when farming would finally transform their lives and area.
That day may not be far from now.
“They all were unable to go further with their education,” Yohane says in deep reflection.
When I ask him the reasons why; he surprises me with his answer: “When Bingu (former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika) gave us [farm inputs under] the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp), our life dramatically changed.”
He points to his iron-roofed house as evidence of what he means. His harvest tripled, he sold the extra to buy iron sheets in the process.
However, he noticed changes when he graduated from the programme. The seed bought from traders did not do well despite ably applying fertilisers. As harvest dropped, his children also dropped one by one from secondary school.
When I tell him that the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development is launching the National Seed Policy later this month, his face shines. He has questions, which the minister responsible, Joseph Mwanamvekha, is happy to address.
Mwanamvekha says to farmers like Yohane, over the years, “the industry has undergone massive transformation from one seed company and agro-dealer to over 25 and 700 seed companies and agro dealers respectively”.
Mwanamvekha says, due to the strategic nature of the sector to the economy, it is imperative that, while farmers are working hard in the fields their effort is complimented by the Seed Policy, which has clear guidelines for the development and promotion of agricultural productivity through provision of sustainable, adequate and high quality seeds to farmers like Yohane.
Mwanamvekha adds that this has also been recognised in the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) III under the agriculture and climate change priority area.
On quality, Mwanamvekha states that, “top quality seed is a basic and vital input in agricultural production and that is why, when I came here, I put in all effort to make certain that this country has an up to date National Seed Policy to address the challenges being faced by stakeholders such as farmers and others in the seed industry”.
“We must remember that we are moving towards a fully-joined regional and global outlook to production. Having a coherent seed policy is, therefore, essential to rein in on often competing interests,” he said.
On his part, Director of the Department of Agriculture Research Services (Dars), Wiki Makumba, notes that on the new Seed Policy, which is a guiding tool replacing the archaic one of 1993, also closes the current gaps and achieves traction and alignment to Sadc and Comesa Seed protocols.
The Seed Traders Association agrees, saying the new Seed Policy will, among others, facilitate compliance of seed trade to national, regional and international market standards.
The new policy will also help in the development and distribution of new plant varieties among countries in the region; promotion of scientific principles in the production and testing of seeds; and strengthening of seed certification, testing and quality control services and help to standardise testing and improve marketing efficiencies within the country and in the region.
Country Director for the Civil Society Coalition on Agriculture, Pamela Kuwali, said, while more could still be done to make it water tight, the policy is critical as it will galvanise the Act and propel the seed services unit towards efficiency thereby enabling farmers access high quality seeds and by default increase their production.
In reaction, Network of Agriculture Media Vice President, Eunice Dhlovu, saluted the ministry for finally addressing gaps such as matters relating to forestry, horticultural and other special seed systems as well as issues to do with biotechnology.
“As media, we are ready to put on our sensitisation roles to the masses so that we move together,” Dhlovu said.
Development of the policy included extensive consultations, which were conducted with various stakeholders such as farmers themselves, government ministries, departments and agencies, the private sector, development partners, farmer organisations, civil society organisations and Seed Traders Association of Malawi.