Page last updated at 11:39 GMT, Tuesday, 15 April 2008 12:39 UK

Malawi links 'worth keeping up'

School project in Malawi
Mr McConnell visited food, health and education projects

Former First Minister Jack McConnell has said the co-operation agreement he signed with Malawi three years ago is benefiting both countries.

Mr McConnell has just returned from a week-long visit to the African country.

Work reviewed on the trip included health projects, feeding stations, hospitals and schools.

He told Holyrood's external affairs committee that Malawi should continue to be the focus of Scotland's international development work.

I am now in absolutely no doubt that it is making a real difference inside Malawi
Jack McConnell

Mr McConnell said Scottish expertise in food production could be used to help Malawi.

He claimed Scotland's work in the country, which is one of the poorest in the world, could be a model for future international aid between devolved regions and poorer nations.

Mr McConnell, who was first minister from November 2001 until last May's elections, said: "There is absolutely no doubt, in Malawi in particular, but I think also across Scotland, that the link between Scotland and Malawi has been strengthened.

"It has inspired voluntary activity among Scots of all ages and from all walks of life.

"I am now in absolutely no doubt that it is making a real difference inside Malawi too."

Mr McConnell is due to take over as the UK's High Commissioner to Malawi in 2009.

He set out a series of recommendations for the committee, including an overhaul of transportation of supplies to Malawi, which can no longer cope with contributions, and greater support for volunteering.

'Positive approaches'

SNP MSP Gil Paterson quizzed Mr McConnell about fears over a "world food price crisis" and the help Scotland could provide the sector in Malawi.

Mr McConnell replied that there was a dominance of the tobacco crop in Malawi but said there were substantial maize and nut crops as well as other agricultural produce.

But he warned: "There's very, very little processing.

"I think one of the things we've learned here in Scotland over the last 20 years is that in fish and basic agricultural produce, the processing end is the value end. That's the key to a successful future.

"I think in Scotland there's advice that could be provided, partly by national agencies, but by the private sector as well.

"I've had some very positive approaches from significant figures in the Scottish agricultural sector who are keen to help in this and I've offered this assistance to agricultural ministers in Malawi two weeks ago."

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