Thursday, May 03, 2007

Malawian Foreign Minister Visits Cuba--Calls For Third World Unity

May 3, 2007

Third World Unity Is Crucial

Malawi's Foreign minister stresses the importance of South-South Cooperation and Cuba's example


Joyce Hilda Banda has several years of experience, not only as the Malawian Foreign Minister, but also in her work advocating women's and children's rights.

This is her second visit to Cuba. She came for the first time during the Non-Aligned Summit (September 2006), and just concluded leading her country's delegation to the Third Joint intergovernmental Commission, in which the two nations agreed to further boost ties in areas such as healthcare, education and sustainable development.

Banda spoke about the importance of boosting South-South Cooperation and voiced her support for unity among the Third World to face development challenges.

The Malawian foreign minister told Granma that getting to know Cuba has allowed her to admire Commander in Chief Fidel Castro even more, and to appreciate his efforts to benefit his people. She added that Malawi sees Cuba as an example of what a small country can accomplish.

The Malawian foreign minister stressed the importance of relations within the Non-Aligned Movement -currently chaired by Cuba- and indicated that ties with developed countries are necessary, but said they should always be developed within the framework of equity and cooperation.

Having overcome times of famine and currently with a government that is taking steps to meet its peoples' needs, Banda explained: "For us it is very important to develop rural areas. In a given area, we open a school, a hospital, a market, a post office. We are granting loans to mothers, so that they can send their children to high school, because primary school is free. That is, we are making available to those populations conditions that exist in cities, and we are also implementing an education program to prevent HIV/AIDS."

Malawi has approximately 118,480 square kilometers and a population of 13.2 million people, half of which live below the poverty line. The illiteracy rate is 40 percent and life expectancy 50 years.

The African nation faces serious infrastructure problems, a lack of roads, and electricity is only available to 20 percent of the population, although there are conditions for the nation to overcome these difficulties.

Banda explains that an improved water policy and organization of labor, enabled farmers to produce two harvests in stead of one, which is why Malawi reported a GDP growth of six percent last year and had a half million metric ton foodstuff surplus. "For 2007, that surplus will reach one million, and we have already contacted neighboring nations victimized by draught so that they can obtain our corn," she added.

Turning to the visit she has just concluded in Cuba, Joyce Hilda Banda explained that specialists from the island will help in the construction of a canal to connect Malawi with the sea.

"We have just begun the first contacts and we have already identified areas where we can work together. One of them is education, we hope to receive a great boost using the Cuban model for teaching literacy and in the training of teachers and doctors," said Banda.

In concluding the Malawi official noted, "Many people ignore the Cuban reality, and when they come here they are impressed by how Fidel has led this country out of difficulties and to the level where it currently stands. It is really extraordinary."

MALAWI: Bumper harvest expected again this year

Malawian agriculture is recovering from the 2005 drought

LILONGWE, 26 April 2007 (IRIN) - Farmers in Malawi are attributing the abundant harvest they are looking forward to - a total of 3.2 million metric tonnes of maize this year - to a combination of good rains and subsidised fertiliser, although there are still remaining pockets of vulnerability.

"What the government did - to reduce fertiliser [prices] to enable the poor buy cheap fertiliser - has increased food production. It is my sincere hope that government will continue implementing the programme, so that Malawi does not suffer from hunger any longer," said Amos Banda, a farmer on the outskirts of the capital, Lilongwe.

The government has also attributed the high maize production to subsidised fertiliser, which was sold to farmers at 950 kwacha [about US$6.50] per 50kg bag; in 2004 the price was around K4,000 [about US$27] per 50kg bag.

With a 22 percent increase over last year's production - 73 percent higher than the average for the last five years, according to government estimates - Malawi's agricultural sector seems to be recovering after a drought in 2005 left almost five million people in need of food aid.

Banda said that working hard "is the only solution to deal with persistent hunger in our households. We have had good rains in the past few years, but good rainfall without farm inputs and hard work cannot produce better crop yields."

Joana Kambale, another farmer, praised the government for reducing the cost of fertiliser but suggested that the most poverty-stricken people be given fertiliser free of charge.

"Some of us are keeping orphans, and to raise money to feed the children and buy fertiliser is not easy. However, I have to be thankful to government for the reduction, but free fertiliser to the poor would be helpful," she said.

Despite forecasts of a good harvest throughout the country, a maize shortage is expected in Karonga district, in the Northern part of Malawi, after a lack of rain in February.

Nevertheless, the farmers have proven resilient. "Although we may not harvest enough maize from this area, we still believe we can survive by growing winter crops. What most people would like, however, is the support from government. We need to irrigate our crops and we can only succeed if we have proper equipment," said Daniel Mwagomba, a farmer in Karonga.

An estimated 65 percent of Malawi's 12 million people live below the poverty line, so the vast majority cannot afford irrigation equipment. The government has said it would distribute about 400 treadle pumps - a simple and inexpensive human-powered pump - but farmers in most areas have not yet received them.

Deputy Minister of Agriculture Binton Kuntsaira said there were no plans to discontinue the government's subsidy programme. "Due to high maize ... production last year, government has allowed traders to sell their crops outside Malawi. This year we expect more from our farmers, and this is what the government wants. People must be able to feed themselves."

This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the Pan-African News Wire

Country, Malawi, Lesotho to Help Solve Swaziland's Pension Delays

BuaNews (Tshwane)
May 1, 2007
By Sydney Masinga

As the world marks Workers' Day on 1 May, Swaziland has asked South Africa, Malawi and Lesotho for advice on how best to distribute its pension grants.

Representatives of pension payment bodies from the three countries have been invited to a conference in Swaziland on Wednesday to meet with a task team of Swazi cabinet ministers.

Swaziland suspended the delivery of pension grants two months ago, until the Social Welfare Ministry addresses the delays in delivering the grant.

Co-ordinator of a the Regional Hunger and Vulnerability Programme (RHVP), Patricia Musi, said on Tuesday that the RHVP was helping the task team find ways to solve the delays.

The RHVP operates in six southern African countries where hunger is a problem.

"We are offering technical expertise and promoting and facilitating dialogue between the task team and the other relevant stakeholders in this matter," said Ms Musi.

The RHVP is also funding the conference.

"The conference will enable the government of Swaziland to learn from the experiences of the other countries on cash grant delivery systems.

"We will also give potential service providers a chance to make presentations on how they would go about delivering the old age grant, if given the task," said Ms Musi.

South Africa will be represented by a Durban company called Net One, which produces pension smart cards.

Lesotho will be represented by the Lesotho Commissioner of Pension, while Malawi will be represented by an official from the Bank of Malawi, which is responsible for delivering pension payments.

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