Monday, May 10, 2010

Mutharika calls for universities' practical

By Mike Chipalasa in Nairobi, Kenya

Malawi’s Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Professor Peter Mutharika has asked African universities to stop being mere centres of reading and thinking but apply knowledge through technological innovations.

He said promotion of innovations, especially in agriculture, was critical in order to develop African economies, which largely rely on trade exports from agricultural products.

Professor Mutharika made the appeal on Wednesday in Nakuru, over 200Km east of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, during the opening of a U$200,000 Rhizobium Inoculant (Biofix) laboratory factory, which will be producing fertilizers for legumes such as beans.

The Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister launched the factory on behalf of the African Union chairperson, President Bingu wa Mutharika, who is currently in China.

“I am grad that the University of Nairobi has taken the lead,” said Mutharika.

The Rhizobium Inoculant (Biofix) fertilizer project started in 2008 by Kenya’s leading private fertilizer company, the MEA Limited, in partnership with the University of Nairobi and the British Council.

“If Africa is to develop, it should move from resource-based economy to knowledge based economy. I want universities to take this lead just as the University of Nairobi has done,” added Mutharika.

The minister said he would send a delegation from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security in Malawi to study the legume fertilizers to ascertain how they could contribute to food security through beans production, which had reached deficit levels in Malawi, leading to imports.

Professor Mutharika, however, said Malawihad managed to achieve food security in the past four years through subsidy programme despite fierce opposition from leading institutions like the International Monetory Fund (IMF), World Bank and the European Union, whom he said were no clapping hands for the country’s achievement.

He thus asked the Kenyan authorities to be bold enough against outside pressure when executing programmes, which benefit ordinary people.

The minister also noted that following the successful implementation of the country’s subsidy programme, which registered 1.2 million metric tonnes last year, Malawi had started donating and exporting maize to food insecure countries.

“We are a food secure country but we are a beans deficit country. I promise to ask the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security to come here and study legumes,” he said, responding to MEA Limited managing director Eustace Muriuki, who asked Malawi to adopt the technology.

In a separate interview, Professor Peter Mutharika said he would be asking universities in Malawi to come together and develop a similar technology.

“My message is that let’s work together to develop technology. I will be asking the University of Malawi as Bunda College, Mzuzu University and other institutions to come together.

“We can also take advantage of the Lilongwe University of Science and Technology as well as the University of Southern Malawi in Thyolo, which will open soon and will concentrate on sciences,” he said.

Muriuki said there was serious need for the development of technology in the agricultural sector if efforts to sustain food security records were to be meaningful.

He observed that although Malawi achieved food security in maize, the country needs to diversify and start growing beans to supplement its food security record.

He, however, observed that food security records in Africa require the development of initiatives as MEA Limited had done in coming up with cheap innovations to support agricultural activities.

“We are now moving from inorganic to organic fertilizers, this requires factorism,” Muriuki stated.

According to Muriuki, MEA Limited is the only company in Kenya which has moved farming scientifically from soil testing to fertilisers.

The company produces 400 sachets of Rhizobium Inoculant (Biofix) every week, costing U$2.5 per sachet and wants to upscale production to 1,000 sachets per week in the next few years.

The product is used in growing dry beans, cow peas, groundnuts, lucane, soya beans and other legumes to maximize production-Sunday Times.

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