Despite the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) being an apparent white elephant, siphoning money from national coffers without returning it, Malawians want the programme to continue while an analyst says it is a necessary evil.
The views were revealed in a Nation on Sunday survey on whether the programme should continue amid emerging consensus among experts that the policy is increasingly becoming unsustainable as costs shoot to the sky.
A 58 percent majority of the 1 396 respondents Nation reporters and correspondents interviewed in 20 districts backed the programme.
The level of support for the policy, which was launched in 2005, comes as no surprise to Dr Blessings Chinsinga, a political and development expert who teaches at Chancellor College.
Chinsinga, who has published extensively on Fisp and food security in Malawi, argued that the programme is a necessary evil for Malawi.
“It is a necessary evil; without it, there would be serious hunger…and no matter what government comes, it will not scrap the programme because it is a politically sensitive issue.
“The legitimacy of the State in Malawi lies in its ability to provide maize. That is why Joyce Banda goes around distributing maize,” said Chinsinga on Friday.
However, he said the current philosophy underpinning the programme, which views it as the sole solution to the hunger problem, is unsustainable and not cost-effective.
Chinsinga said there is a need to use Fisp as part of a package of measures that will enable farmers to graduate from subsidies.
“Government should use Fisp as a catalyst for what I call agrarian transformation, designed in such a way that people can graduate from the subsidy,” he said.
In a paper he authored for the Civil Society Network on Agriculture (Cisanet) titled The Future of the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp): A Political Economy Investigation, Chinsinga also argued that politicians have taken Fisp as a quick fix for the food security problems instead of using it as a way out.
“The continued implementation of the Fisp as usual will simply lock up the country permanently in the LMPT (Low Maize Production Trap) with disastrous consequences,” reads the paper.
Malawi’s Deputy Minister of Agriculture Ulemu Chilapondwa reiterated government’s commitment to continuing the programme, describing it as an intervention designed for those who cannot afford to access farm inputs at commercial rates.
“Fisp has been very successful in eradicating hunger. The current hunger problems we have are just a result of erratic rains,” said Chilapondwa.
He acknowledged the blights of Fisp as those highlighted by Chinsinga and said this is why government is implementing plans to commercialise subsistence farming in Malawi.
“Already, we have given tractors to all agricultural development divisions for farmers to hire at a reduced cost for use in their fields so as to reduce the time they spend tilling their land,” said Chilapondwa.
According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), which was quoting a study by Christopher Chibwana and others, found that overall, poor households that received subsidised inputs under Fisp were better off than those who did not access the inputs.
Fisp also increased fertiliser use, enhanced maize yields and expanded maize production at the expense of other crops.
“These results have implications for designing future subsidy programmes that will have the greatest possible positive impact on agricultural production in Malawi. First, FISP and other subsidy programmes must target poor households, thus requiring modifications to the recipient selection procedures used in 2008–2009.
“Second, although fertiliser remains a key input for maize production, it is necessary to enhance availability of improved seed for maize and other crops, especially legumes and drought-tolerant crops.
“The latter policy is particularly important to achieving the dual objectives of food security and crop diversification articulated in Malawi’s Agricultural Sector Wide Approach (ASWAp) document,” recommended IFPRI on its website.