DER Documentary

Malawi's Green Revolution: Seeking Sustainability 1998-2015

Malawi's Green Revolution: Seeking Sustainability 1998-2015 launch preview watch a preview

from the Development Communications Workshop Collection
by Charles Mann, Doug Karr, and Michael J. Palmer
color, 39 min & 101 min of extras, 2005/2011

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Responding to recurrent food crises, by 1998 scientists in Malawi had developed and field-tested new maize varieties and crop combinations that promised Malawi a "Green Revolution." However, with farmers too poor to purchase seed and fertilizer, how to empower Malawi's farmers with this new technology?

The answer came in a dramatic response to a food crisis in 1998 when donors and government distributed small Starter Packs of the new seed, fertilizer, and nitrogen fixing legumes to all smallholder farmers in Malawi — 2.8 million households. Production soared, and by the end of year 2, Malawi had a large maize surplus. Judging Starter Pack's annual $25 million cost unsustainable, donors forced a change in concept from spreading the new technology to all farmers to providing a social safety net: lower productivity seed and less fertilizer in the pack, and packs only for Malawi's neediest. This change placed Malawi's Green Revolution on hold, and production fell towards traditional levels, so that by 2005, Malawi again was in desperate food crisis.

Over the objections of donors, the Government responded to the crisis by providing vouchers to all farmers allowing them to buy at a sharp discount two bags of fertilizer and improved seed. At a cost of about $70 million per year, the surge of improved seed and fertilizer restarted Malawi's stalled Green Revolution, and the country again moved into maize surplus. With the World Bank having judged this a "smart subsidy", perhaps this approach will prove sustainable, even though it overlooks much of the science that motivated the original Starter Pack approach.

The film brings to life some central dilemmas of development policy as supporters and opponents of Starter Pack express their views, and as donors press to reshape the program from a focused instrument of technological change into an element of a social safety net, then into something midway between.

To provide more background and deeper insight into the issues highlighted in the film, the DVD includes 57 clips selected from specialist interviews, organized into eleven themes. Each of these (or all) can be played as a unit, but the menu also permits going directly to any single clip, enhancing the usefulness of this extraordinary compilation of expertise.

“I REALLY like the Starter Pack film. It is thoughtful, balanced, picturesque, and is truly excellent in showing the reactions of various stakeholders. It's a gem.” —Walter Falcon, Prof. Emeritus, Stanford University and Former Chairman, CIMMYT

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Official Selection, Woods Hole Film Festival, 2006

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