Within two years, Malawi went from famine to food exportation. Now the fertilizer subsidies have caught on among neighboring countries—10 are testing similar policies, including Tanzania, Nigeria and Zambia. Faced with the evidence of success, USAID, the World Bank, and many European donors are putting their support behind subsidy programs.One man saved the day. A similar story is being told in Zambia. But now let's talk about the seeds:
“The dogma was that you don’t subsidize African farmers, even though we subsidize American, European and Japanese farmers to the tune of 1 billion U.S. dollars a day,” Professor Sánchez says. “Things have changed. It was basically the political will from one president.”
A major criticism of the Malawi model is that it encourages farmers to turn to a single staple crop (and yes, it's corn, in case you were wondering...). Horticulturist Linda Larish notes that the traditional Malawian staple, a taro-like plant called manioc, has largely been abandoned by farmers switching to imported hybrid corn.Meanwhile, other scientists are finding ways to improve native rice varieties themselves, rather than merely splicing genes from African varieties into the more popular, commercialized Asian varieties.
“Even though they are self-sufficient and can grow their own food, they are at the mercy of the seed and fertilizer companies,” Larish says.
Not by coincidence, Malawi’s policies gave Monsanto a foothold for its hybrid maize in sub-Saharan Africa. Is it philanthropy, PR, or simply shrewd business?