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Malawi’s Mutharika Left ‘Positive Legacy’ By Showing How Africa ‘Can Feed Itself’

Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika, who died April 5, may be remembered for corruption and mismanagement, but his “positive legacy” is his creation of “an agriculture-led boom in Malawi, one that pointed a way for Africa to overcome its chronic hunger, food insecurity, and periodic extreme famines,” Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, writes in a New York Times opinion piece. Despite “resistance” from the donor community, under Mutharika, “Malawi used its own paltry budget revenues to introduce a tiny [agricultural] subsidy program for the world’s poorest people, and lo and behold, production doubled within one harvest season. Malawi began to produce enough grain for itself year after year, and even became a food donor when famine struck the region. Life expectancy began to rise, and is estimated to be around 55 years for the period 2010-15,” he says.

Following his reelection in 2009, “Mutharika began to try to put family members into power to create a dynasty,” and the ensuing corruption drove away donors, Sachs notes, adding, “It is all too easy to destroy an impoverished country that depends on donors for a variety of life-saving interventions.” He continues, “Yet however many missteps he may have made in the last years, [Mutharika’s] positive legacy remains historic. He was the first African president in recent years to face down the donors by insisting that Africa can and must feed itself, especially by helping smallholder farmers to gain access to the vital inputs they need to raise their productivity, diversify their production, and escape from poverty.” Sachs concludes, “As of 2020, Africa could double, or even more, its current grain yields. By recognizing the potential of Africa’s smallholder farmers, Mutharika helped put Africa on a path out of poverty and hunger” (4/19).

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