History Of Malawi

Sir Geoffrey Colby, the Governor of Nyasaland from 1948-1957.

By Inno Chanza.

“Nyasaland’s persistent famine shall only be arrested by extensive irrigation of the Shire Valley.” He made these remarks after the acute shortage of food in Nyasaland in 1949. Nyasaland Govt imported maize and other grains in 1949 to combat the famine.

A short-term solution: Colby made interplanting compulsory. Farmers were forced to plant Maize, Sorghum, Millet, and Cassava together. The idea was maize was less resistant to drought and the other crops became a cushion in drought seasons.

Sorghum offshoots could produce another yield after the initial harvest. Long Term Solution: He proposed to the federal govt to build a high dam on the Shire for Hydroelectricity and extensive irrigation in the Shire valley for grains farming. As part of the project, sugarcane plantations started in the shire valley which was later incorporated into the SUCOMA projects.

The Federal Govt and Nyasaland Govt later failed to implement this ambitious project. 50 years down the line ..one learned lawyer was asking… Why are people blaming the government for the lack of food. He went on to ask… Do Malawians expect the govt to engage in farming…. echoing one NGO leader? While the govt does not engage in farming…. but no matter how much people can work on their farms… If there is a drought… The yield is affected….and the subsequent famine becomes Govt responsibility. It’s not the question of the natives being lazy….. but the drought has been a natural phenomenon that has always haunted Nyasaland.

The first known drought in Nyasaland was in 1859-60…which resulted in severe hunger. Livingstone and John Kirk wrote about that one….at Magomero. Another great drought in Nyasaland occurred in 1881-82 which led the Chilembwe family to move from Chiladzulu to Blantyre because of a shortage of grains in rural areas.

1904 to 1907… Other reported droughts that partly influenced the Mzimba Ngonito to accept the British rule and joined Nyasaland.

1911… Drought in 1913… Severe Drought and famine. That led to the migration of the Lomwe….and influenced the Rising in 1915. 1918 severe drought and influenza.1921… 1923 Spontaneous droughts.1933.

Another drought 1949…. Severe drought and the mother of all famine. Luckily Nyasaland was under Colby the great who had just recently taken over the charge of Nyasaland. Colby used his techniques to combat the famine. Later started Malimidwe amakono…teaching the natives new farming methods to combat famine.

He opened the Mpemba Agricultural School and the Makwapala agricultural Stations where educated natives were trained in Agricultural Courses and deployed in the rural areas as Agricultural Assistants. Why was Colby doing all this? It is the duty of the government to provide the environment and techniques to the peasant farmer to ensure that he produces enough yields for his own sustenance.

If that peasant farmer fails to produce enough food for himself.. He becomes a burden and a responsibility of the govt. Dr. Banda after Independence. Opened large irrigation schemes. Limphasa, Nkhate, Muona, Kasinthula, Likangala, Karonga, Nkhatabay etc…These grew rice and maize throughout the year. The govt used to own these irrigation Systems and were run by Taiwanese expatriates.

My aunt used to lend just 3 plots at Nkhate Irrigation Scheme in Chikwawa … She used to get over 25 bags of rice in just one quarter of the year. I saw this with my own eyes as on holidays… Part of my job with my cousin Owen was… chasing birds which preyed on our aunties’ rice when ripening. For all those who saw cheap rice and maize on the market in the 1980s and didn’t know where it was coming from…

There were people out there who were cultivating those grains throughout the year to supplement the normal seasonal yield. Later after the multi-party, I went to Nsanje Fatima on a project and found the Muona Irrigation Scheme closed. Peasants were complaining that they could not continue planting in the scheme as Government was no longer maintaining the irrigation system.”Dr” Bakili had just brought a new idea to rural people to start businesses. The masses abandoned farming and adopted entrepreneurship.

While staying in Chitipa. One Tanzanian remarked that. The problem with Malawians is … you have all adopted business as a national policy. But you don’t produce anything. He was the right majority of Malawians then obtained a capital. Go to Tanzania or South Africa buy ridiculous items and sell or dump them in Malawi in front of Dr. Bakili’s big smile. We even stopped growing rice and went to buy kilombero in Tanzania to sell in Malawi… apples, oranges from South Africa.

That was his idea of development. All these people who were engaging in these hand-to-mouth businesses were former farmers. Truly a government policy can really create a generation of lazy people. And Bakili successfully achieved this. It only takes 15 years to create… a different generation. In Nyasaland, a new generation in the rural areas which knew nothing about Agriculture was created…and the Agricultural Support System removed.

Staying in South Africa…I was disturbed to learn even the rural masses there do not know the process of how Iwisa Maize flour is done…The main reason…. the natives are not involved in maize farming… And the production of Iwisa. The South African locals do not know that you have to grow the corn and take it to a maize mill… Chigayo to produce Maize flour. They only see it on the shelves in shops like powdered milk. These better qualify as lazy people than local Nyasas who strive to produce this product on their own.

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