When Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika launched an agriculture subsidy programme aimed at relieving one of the worst food security situations to hit Malawi in 2005, he ran into the teeth of opposition from the UK and the US.
Faced with a situation that would have left half his country without food, Mutharika ignored the Western pressure and provided his country's beleaguered farmers with cheap fertiliser and other inputs.
Furious US and UK officials refused to fund the programmes claiming they would entail a waste of resources. Mutharika put the needs of his country before academic orthodoxies and went ahead with the scheme, relying on government funds.
"Our people are poor because they lack resources to use the soil and the water we have. As long as I am the president I don't want to be going to other countries begging for food," he said at the launch of the programme in 2005.
One of the programme's main aims was to reduce the price of fertiliser from MK4,000 ($27) to $6.50 per 50kg bag. As a result maize production leapt from 1.2m metric tonnes (m/t) in 2005 to 2.7m m/t in 2006 and 3.4m m/t last year, creating a surplus of 1.5m m/t.
The bumper harvest did not benefit Malawi alone but also its regional neighbours. Malawi officially exported 40,000t of maize to Zimbabwe by the end of December 2007 and also donated 5,000t of maize to two countries suffering drought, Lesotho and Swaziland.
In September, the Food and Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), a regional body that co-ordinates food programmes and agriculture policies in 12 Southern African countries, recognised Mutharika's efforts.
The organization awarded him the inaugural Food Policy Leadership Award "for his sound agriculture policies which in three years have transformed the country, that was once reliant on international food aid to feed half of its population, into a food exporter".
Presenting the award in the Malawian capital Lilongwe, the FANRPAN board's chairperson Sindiso Ngwenya said Mutharika deserved the honour because his food security policies had spoken for themselves. "President Muth arika has implemented an agriculture input subsidy programme in the face of international donor criticism and reluctance to support subsidies.
"Malawi's success story is an inspiration to the region and President wa Mutharika is the most deserving winner of the FANRPAN award," he commented.
He added that he was convinced that...