Malawi is a coun­try where noth­ing goes to waste

There’s no short­age of en­ter­prise in Malawi, but the world econ­omy can be bru­tal, says Su­san Dal­gety


Her ac­cent was un­mis­tak­able. “Come and taste your Malaw­ian wine here,” she shouted, in tones that had been clearly honed in the west of Scot­land, not down­town Li­longwe.

Clutch­ing my over- full shop­ping bag, burst­ing with sweet pota­toes, tomato jam and home- made peanut but­ter, I headed in the di­rec­tion of the com­mand­ing voice, “Beau­ti­ful Malaw­ian fruit wines, try them here.”

I had barely been in Li­longwe, the cap­i­tal of Malawi, for 12 hours, and al­ready I had stum­bled across one of the many Scots who have built their life here. Not as own­ers of large farm es­tates or lux­u­ri­ous tourist lodges, but as Malaw­ians, work­ing as medics, teach­ers, or as

in Mar­garet Ng­wira’s case, smallscale wine pro­duc­ers.

To­day she was sell­ing her wine at a farmer’s mar­ket, set up to show­case small pro­duc­ers, from young women who grow aubergines and pep­pers in their town­ship, to grand­moth­ers from the north sell­ing honey.

“Try some mul­berry wine, or straw­berry,” Mar­garet said, pour­ing me a gen­er­ous sam­ple of each. And as I sipped de­li­cious fruit wine un­der the hot mid­day sun, she ex­plained how a na­tive of Len­nox­town had ended up pro­duc­ing fruit wine here, in the heart of south­ern Africa.

“I came in 1968, as a VSO vol­un­teer, and met Ti­mothy, my hus­band. We were mar­ried in 1970, and I have been here ever since.

“Ti­mothy died last year,” she said, qui­etly, then ral­lied and of­fered me a taste of her peach wine.

“But I have Ly­ton, who was the top stu­dent at Bunda Col­lege, as my sci­en­tific of­fi­cer,” she said, push­ing for­ward a shy young man, “And we are mak­ing great wines. We had a blind tast­ing in the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment with them,” point­ing to a board cov­ered in pho­to­graphs of Linga Wine’s 2017 launch in Scot­land.

Mar­garet’s story, of a young woman trav­el­ling to Malawi to vol­un­teer, then fall­ing in love, is not that un­usual. We are sub- let­ting the home – and cat – of a young Nor­we­gian woman and her Malaw­ian part­ner, while they spend time in Oslo with their first baby. Malawi can be a very se­duc­tive coun­try.

What is per­haps dif­fer­ent about Mar­garet is her sin­gle- minded com­mit­ment to Malawi’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. She is an aca­demic li­brar­ian by pro­fes­sion, but since 2005, she and her late hus­band have been do­ing their bit to boost Malawi’s ex­port num­bers. In 2017, Malawi ex­ported goods and ser­vices worth around £ 1.5 bil­lion. In the same year, Scot­land ex­ported £ 81.4 bil­lion, with 60 per cent go­ing to the rest of the UK.

The global econ­omy is a bru­tal mar­ket. Only the pow­er­ful, or those with a pre­cious com­mod­ity to sell, flour­ish. With­out suf­fi­cient for­eign ex­change and tax rev­enues that ex­ports bring, gov­ern­ments can­not af­ford to prop­erly feed and ed­u­cate their cit­i­zens. It is that sim­ple.

Malawi is not pow­er­ful, and while there is very likely oil un­der its mag­nif­i­cent lake which cov­ers one third of the coun­try, it has very few nat­u­ral re­sources, and a very mod­est in­dus­trial base. It’s big­gest ex­port by far, to­bacco, is no longer the cash crop it once was.

It is land­locked, which means ex­port­ing goods is an ex­pen­sive, lo­gis­ti­cal night­mare, and while its fer­tile land can grow any­thing, from rice to cof­fee and fruit for Mar­garet’s wines, most of the farm­ing is small scale.

Mil­lions of peo­ple grow just enough maize, pump­kins and toma­toes to feed their fam­i­lies, with a lit­tle left over to sell for pre­cious soap, salt and school fees.

They are also at the mercy of the ever- chang­ing global cli­mate. A few weeks ago, in the south of Malawi, much of this year’s maize crop was dam­aged, or even de­stroyed, by tor­ren­tial rain and wind.

De­vel­op­ment ex­perts from rich coun­tries have pon­dered for decades on how best to sup­port low­in­come coun­tries to be­come, if not rich, at least mod­er­ately bet­ter off.

The World Bank in­vests bil­lions each year on in­ter­ven­tions to try and grow “diver­si­fied, com­pet­i­tive, shock- re­silient” economies in coun­tries where class­rooms are packed full of chil­dren, ea­ger to learn, who will prob­a­bly leave school with no hope ever of find­ing for­mal em­ploy­ment.

But there is no short­age of en­ter­prise in Malawi. Ev­ery­where you go, peo­ple are buy­ing and sell­ing, mak­ing and mend­ing. Noth­ing goes to waste in a coun­try where even dis­carded plas­tic bags can be­come a foot­ball, and self- re­liance is es­sen­tial for sur­vival. “I am col­lect­ing th­ese bricks to build a youth and chil­dren’s cen­tre,” says Ever­son Ma­payani, who at 28 is Malawi’s youngest coun­cil­lor, point­ing to a six- foot high pyra­mid of vil­lage­fired bricks made from red African soil.

His ward is in Sal­ima Dis­trict, 70 miles out­side the cap­i­tal. Its scat­tered vil­lages, sim­ple pri­mary schools built of breeze blocks and count­less maize gar­dens are typ­i­cal of the whole coun­try. So too is the poverty. Chil­dren in torn, third or fourth- hand clothes, fol­low us ev­ery­where. Mid­dle- aged women, years of hard work and many preg­nan­cies etched on their faces, sit out­side their homes, cook­ing beans over fire­wood, while men gather un­der the shade of trees, gos­sip­ing.

Ever­son is up for re- election on 21 May, along with the coun­try’s Pres­i­dent, its 193 MPS and 462 coun­cil­lors.

“I will win,” he grins, with all the

0 Ever­son Ma­payani, Malawi’s youngest coun­cil­lor at 28, with some younger helpers, as

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