President Peter Mutharika once appealed to Malawi academics to seriously engage in relevant research and publish in order not perish. But some took this advice by the nose and go on into false and politically motivated research. This article says that what common Malawians need from the academics are researches that help in the country’s development and not irrelevant researches such as the recent one, which lied about the political leaders’ popularity. The article suggests that Professor Blessings Chinsinga is an example of a good researcher that others should follow.
Every society or generation has guardians of its conscious and good sense.
For example, the whole America once depended upon the mind of writer and thinker Mark Twain.
France once looked to philosopher, Jean-Paul Satre.
Nigeria, now waits for what Wole Soyinka says when some national crisis occurs.
These thinkers and academics controls the soul of the nation if it’s going astray. A nation always gets into some crisis when the leaders choose not to listen.
In this write-up, I look at Chancellor College Professor of Political Economy, Blessings, Chinsinga as one of the guardians of the Malawi conscious such that to ignore his well-informed socio-political and economic pieces of advice can lead to failure in some sectors of the country’s leadership.
I have used the case of Malawi fertilizer subsidy programme, as a point of reference, which has though during President Bingu wa Mutharika turned Malawi into a ‘food basket nation’ but has over the past few years been facing huddles.
Since 2005, Professor Blessings Chinsinga has widely researched and published on the implications of the Malawi agriculture subsidies on food security, politics and the economy in general.
The Chancellor College based professor is a blessing to the country as he is a Blessings himself.
You can imagine him seating in his office dug in his chair for long hours labouring to make sense of Malawi’s development course.
After the reintroduction of the Agriculture input subsidies he had spent his intellectual energies in trying to lecture the leaders on the good or the bad that the subsidies have for the developing country.
Unfortunately, very few among Malawians are aware that Chinsinga is such an internationally respected intellectual and academic whose research input particularly on Agriculture subsidies and the political economy is vast.
Search him! It is from there, you would begin to appreciate that as a nation, we don’t even deserve Professor Chinsinga, for he lives among a stubborn nation and leaders.
Search Chinsinga on agriculture subsidies alone, you will find a treasure trove of knowledge on the Malawi political economy stacked in various print and online journal publications. He is not alone of course.
Chinsinga’s contributions to the political economy of the agriculture subsidies, go a long way, to define him as a professor who is so passionate in contributing to combating poverty in his country.
Chinsinga has authored and co-authored tens of journal articles and presented tens of conference papers that will tell you that he is among the relevant professors that the country needs. I mean we have also a chunk of irrelevant
Now, Let us sample out a few grains of sand from the sea of Chinsinga’s Malawi political-economy research journal articles, in order to have an idea of what it means to be a Professor Chinsinga and appreciate the contributions he has made to the discourse of the Agriculture input subsidies in Malawi.
In a 2010 article “Seeds and Subsidies: The Political Economy of Input Support Programmes in Malawi” published by Future Agricultures Consortium (FAC), Chinsinga argues that in recent years, the subsidy trend has created a unique and highly contested political economy of seeds in Malawi, and that notwithstanding, the strong narratives about national food security.
He also argues that the international commercial seed sector players, pushing their patented genetic material, have won out in agriculture policy over local producers and varieties, again to the profits of local elites.
However, the main argument in this article is that the centrality of the question of food security in the country’s electoral politics in a post liberalisation context has created a seed industry dominated by multinational seed companies, offering farmers a narrow range of products, mainly hybrid maize and in which alternative cereal seed systems are on the verge of extinction.
He further argues that the single most significant impact of the input support programmes is that it has reinforced the dominance of maize in the country’s cereal systems and that maize has become an important political crop.
In a conference paper, “Deconstructing the Success Myth: A case of the Malawi Farm Input Subsidy Programme(FISP)” presented in Mozambique between 4-5 September, 2012, Chinsinga critically analysed the claims that the Malawi FISP could be the model that the rest of Africa could emulate in a bid to reviving the fledging agricultural sector after years of neglect.
Chinsinga argued in this paper presentation that FISP could be a qualified initiative but that it is not an absolute success as propagated in the calls for it to serve as a model for implementing smart subsidy across the continent.
Further, in a journal article “Reclaiming Policy Space: Lessons from Malawi’s Fertilizer Subsidy Programme” Chinsinga contends that political context matters in agricultural development issues. He argues that no matter what the technical or economic arguments for or against particular policy positions are, it is ultimately the configuration of political interests that influence agricultural policy outcomes on the ground.
In another article “Beyond Technocratic Debates: The Significance and Transience of Political Incentives in the Malawi Farm Input Subsidy Programmes (FISP)”, co-authored with Colin Poultron, Chinsinga almost advances the same argument on the fate of agriculture subsidies in a highly politicised system.
In a 2008 book “Planting ideas: How Agriculture Subsidies are Working in Malawi” co-authored with Aoiffe O’Brien published by Africa Research Institute, Chinsinga and O’Brien are wrestling with the question that: Are agriculture subsidies good for Africa?
In answering to the question with reference to Malawi, the authors, established that FISP benefited many small-holder farmers. However, Chinsinga observed that Malawi has been inconsistent on agriculture subsidies due to political influences.
For example, he argues the universal subsidies were introduced by Malawi founding President, Hastings Kamuzu Banda and were eliminated in the mid-1980s and again in the mid-1990s before they were hastily reintroduced by the Bakili Muluzi regime in form of starter-packs implemented from 1998-2000 and Targeted Input Programmes from 2000-4.
Chinsinga also argued that despite of the fact that FISP was instantly successful in agricultural production during President Bingu wa Mutharika first term, this achievement was not secure for the future because Malawi cannot stubbornly depend on the maize crop as there are many factors that affect its production and even marketing. Is this not where we are now?
This is why the Professor Peter Mutharika administration is reconsidering its position on the subsidies by cautiously weaning the small-holder farmers dependent on these subsides.
Chinsinga did not stop here on subsidy researches. In his 2013 article, ‘Smart Subsidies’? A critical Review of the Malawi fertilizer Subsidy programme, published on Rural21: The International Journal for Rural Development, Chinsinga argues that the period that Malawi hit international headlines after the implementation of the first FISP in the 2005/06 growing season which broke the vicious circle of chronic food shortage, gave much opportunity for the governing party to win the people’s confidence for a second vote.
Chinsinga argues that, against the background of FISP of being a mass tool for canvassing votes, the regimes that have come after Bingu wa Mutharika, have for several political interests been reluctant to drop FISP altogether arguing that it is pro-poor.
He further argues that the reintroduction of the fertilizer subsidy as a strategy for addressing the question of the chronic and pervasive hunger featured prominently in the campaign for the 2004 general elections.
He argues that the distinctive feature of the 2004 electoral campaign was that it reflected a strong national consensus for fertilizer subsidy as all leading candidates promised some kind of support to the smallholder agricultural sector and the difference was only in the magnitude of the subsidy.
And now we ask: Should future Malawi elections be centred on the question of food security or there is need for political party manifestos to focus on other areas?
From this question you may now begin to appreciate the policy direction that Chinsinga offered many years back that FISP can lead us to bad politics.
But who cares about Professor Chinsinga? Very few.
But it should not come to that moment where our professors regret living among an ungrateful people like what Chinsinga revealed on 29 September, 2011, during the University of Malawi Academic Freedom struggle in Jessie Kabwila’s paper “The Challenge of Standing in Defence if Academic Freedom in Malawi”. Here is Chinsinga regretting:
“One thing that I have seen is that the system is thankless. Considering the way I have been bolstering intellectual capacity and flare in my department and institution in general, I believe I deserved to have been treated better. We have an MA programme whose proposal I wrote and got funding for. It has trained 40 MA students. The students were taking 8 subjects. I was teaching 5 out of the 8 for 2 years. This meant that for 2 years, I was marking every day…. In that program, I demonstrated commitment that with hindsight, I have paid for and regret immensely.”
These are the lamentations of a professor, a good example of how professors suffer in silence working among people that are thankless.
It is high time Malawians and policy makers started listening to the wisdom from our home-made professors. But not every professor.(BY NYONI WA NYONI)