From Saturday –

There is much more to say – especially as it is Monday and I have just got internet access to publish this from Saturday, but will update soon.

Saturday, February 6, 2010
So, off to a bit of a slow start, but it could be good as it I am getting a chance to wrap my brain around the country itself. Yesterday I accompanied Sieg on a lunch date with a woman from the Norwegian embassy. I wasn’t exactly sure, but I think the Norweigians were interested in funding projects related to climate change mitigation. But the conversation was interesting as it turned to the economy of Malawi and the place agriculture plays. Over 85% of the population lives on farms, and of those that do live in the city, a significant portion of their living comes from farming – at least a good portion of their food. Which explains why it seems that there are few markets. In fact, because of this, there is really no money economy here. When people work, they are paid in food or in exchange for some other goods or services. One paper I came across valued labor at 53 cents/day, but Sieg thought that was high. Therefore, the money economy here in Lilongwe is really only for the very small merchant class and the expats, of which there are many. Apparently, even professors at the university have to keep a farm in order to make a decent living. The cost of living in Lilongwe is not much less than in Raleigh: rent on a small 3 bedroom house is US$1,000 a month, a restaurant meal is around 10 or 11 dollars. A Malawian working for a “decent wage” in Malawi might make 2 or 3 dollars a day – and the bus costs 2 dollars each way. So people walk. They plant maize wherever they have a spare bit of space, and they buy very little. Because they have no other economy, because everyone farms, the fate of the country year to year depends on the harvests. So food security really is a HUGE thing for Malawi. There are no real excessive slums outside the cities as there are in other developing nations, because people have not abandoned the countryside for the lure of jobs in the city. Only villages, upon villages, upon villages. I can’t wait to get out to the country side to see some of that.

The other person we met with yesterday evening was a German man working with an organization on getting better crop estimates for the government. At about this point in the year, the government will decide whether the harvest will be poor and they need to declare a famine ask for food aid, and prohibit exports, or if the harvest will be good. Of course, because this government was re-elected on its fertilizer subsidy program and its ability to increase yields, they don’t want to declare famine, so it becomes political. There is also talk of the president wanting to change the flag from a rising sun to a sun full in the sky – as if to say “we have made it, we are prosperous”. It is interesting for psychological reasons, but I believe it is risky, especially considering the conditions I mentioned above and other facts – such as that only 6% of all Malawians have access to electricity

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One Response to “From Saturday –”

  1. thinking of you Mary! Hope you are enjoying your stay so far

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