Greetings dear friends. First, allow me to apologize for not being able to write as frequently as I had promised, the reason is that school had really taken its toll on me and my time. Now that the exams are over, I finally have some breathing space, enough of it that I am on my way back to Malawi as I write this post.

The main purpose for my going back home is to collect data for my MS thesis (research project). Of course there is the added advantage of meeting and spending some time with friends and family. After being away for 9 months (I know that is not a lot to some people but it is to me!), there is nothing more refreshing than reuniting with some old, familiar faces. It’s a huge reward for all the hard work over the past year. I understand, though, how privileged I am to get this opportunity to visit Malawi after such a short time away. I know of so many people who long to visit Malawi again having been away for so long but they just can not afford an air ticket. And the current economic environment does not make it any easier to do so.

As I am traveling back to Malawi to collect data, I am still not so very sure what direction I want my research to take. I am hoping that it will be clear by the time I am ready to go out and interview farmers or whoever has the necessary information. One thing that I am certain of though is that I intend to study the impacts of the government input subsidy program on farmland decisions e.g. in terms of how much land to allocate to various enterprises. The Ministry of Agriculture is very much interested in the answer to this question too so there is some value added to studying it. A lot of research has been done on the impacts of the subsidy program on food security and incomes but so far, nothing has been done at the plot level to determine its impact on farmland decisions. It could be possible that farmers are diverting the subsidized fertilizer to other farm enterprises, and I want to find out the driving forces behind those decisions. One thing I know is that the Malawian smallholder farmers are a clever lot, they are able to make rational decisions even without having perfect information.

So for the next three months, I will be loitering around some of the rural communities back home hoping to learn some things that would help shape agricultural policy. I should be back at Purdue in early August to finish my degree program. I am so excited about going back home, as much as I am elated at the research questions that I hope to find answers on. While in Malawi, I will attempt to share with visitors to this blog some of my field experiences. May you all stay blessed.

Greetings once again. Today I decided to share my view of development aid. There is this other Zambian-born-dead-aid1Havard-trained economist by the name of Dambisa Moyo who has authored a book on development-related aid. Her book, titled “Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa” has generated a lot of discussion about the effectiveness of aid to Africa. In her book, Ms. Moyo argues that despite rich countries having transferred to Africa more than $1 trillion in development-related aid over the past fifty years, this assistance has not improved the lives of Africans. In fact, she argues, across the continent the recipients of this aid are not better off as a result of it, but worse—much worse.

To me, it was high time one bold African stood up to challenge the aid theories of the west. I have always believed that the solution to Africa’s problems does not lie in ‘free’ money from western governments. Unfortunately, our African leaders have been blinded by this greatest myth of development of our time. As a result of this misconception, the majority of African countries, Malawi inclusive, have been trapped in this vicious circle of aid dependency. In Malawi, for instance, more than 40% of the government budget is donor money. We have been receiving aid since the early 80s, but what have we got to show for it?

The irony of the EU and US

The EU and the US are top in subsidizing their farmers

It is for such reasons that I welcomed the debate raised by Ms. Moyo through her book. In my opinion, the rich countries offer aid to Africa as compensation for the unfair trade practices they promote. It is common knowledge that almost all of the rich countries subsidize their rich farmers. This essentially means the cost of producing food in rich countries is very low and so the farmers can afford to market their produce at ridiculously low prices. Because these farmers produce more than what their countries need due to the low production cost, these cheap products are in turn dumped to Africa to compete against the African smallholder farmer’s output. What’s worse – the rich countries, led by the U.S. and the EU, have been aggressively pushing  for more trade liberalisation at a time of global crises of food and fuel. The result is that the African farmers have been affected by falling commodity prices, especially of agricultural products.

A fairer global trade system would be more useful to African nations than aid, which often times ends up in the private bank accounts of presidents and/or their accomplices. Producer subsidies in the United States and Europe are threatening Africa’s agricultural industry, and these subsidies drive the African producers out of the global market, exacerbating poverty as a result. Instead of giving “free money” to Africa, the continent’s trading partners could help by working out measures that would promote demand for the continent’s products. Fair trade, NOT aid is the solution to Africa’s poverty. Let Africa trade its products with the rest of the world at competitive prices – the benefits from such a move far outweigh any amount of development aid to the continent.

Moni nonse (greetings everybody)! I would like to introduce you to my blog. This is my very first attempt at establishing a formal blog. I figured out I have a lot of stories about my life and my career that I would like to tell but I just do not have the right platform to do it. This blog therefore is meant to dig into my real personal experiences, which I hope you will be able to relate to. That said, here we go with my first blog!

I am one of the privileged few who have been able to study past their first degree at a very prestigious institution like Purdue University. I consider myself very fortunate to have had that opportunity. The one major difference that I noted between graduate school back home and here at Purdue is the emphasis that is placed on continuous assessment. At Purdue, much of the semester is spent doing homeworks and term papers. I hardly have time to simply sit down and read a book for the sake of reading. If there is no assignment due that week for a specific course, then there is some exam or quiz in that course. Coming from a background that placed much focus on mid-term and final exams, I had a really hard time adjusting to the American system.

It is a good system in that you are forced to learn the material immediately after it is given out in class by the professor, sometimes even before. The MS program in Agricultural Economics is quantitatively rigorous, you need a really good background in calculus and statistics. Despite all that, I am enjoying it. If I ever happened to work as a lecturer sometime in the future, I have learnt a lot of things that would help make my job very effective. This, though, does not mean that I despise the Malawian education system. Frankly, it is the best given the amount of resources that are invested in it. Were it that our educational system was poor, I would not have been successful at Purdue, let alone make it past the selection process.

That said, my view is that a lot can be done to our tertiary education system to make it highly competitive in this 21st century. It is a known fact that the University of Malawi thrives primarily on public money. What I have seen during my stay here is that alumni play a hugely significant role in financing the university. I can not enumerate how many buildings at Purdue that have been donated by former students of the university. Don’t we have University of Malawi alumni who can do the same? You do not have to be filthy rich to assist develop education at your old school which is almost collapsing due to lack of funding. The issue is all about patriotism. In Malawi, once people get their papers from the University, the majority do not care what happens after they are gone – how the plates and cups that they broke during their stay at the university will be replaced, in what state the 2009 economics student will find the 1985 edition of Alpha C. Chiang that they used in 1990, etc. It is that patriotic spirit that makes these other countries and their universities stand out, not the amount of wealth their people have. And speaking of wealth, how do we expect a nation to develop if the people that have all the money now are not willing to share with those that do not have but have the potential to make even more money in future? How many of the people that got the government college loans have paid back a Tambala? And yet we expect to develop education standards in our colleges? We all have to be responsible for the collapse of standards in our colleges.

Once again welcome to my new blog. Thank you for visiting, and please come back soon!