A blame game has erupted between the Ministry of Agriculture and its stakeholders on the underfunding which the ministry’s sub-branch extension services has been getting for the past two decades.
This followed University of Malawi’s Centre for Social Research (CfSR) director Blessings Chinsinga’s dissemination of research findings on the operationalisation of extension services which, among others, revealed that they have been receiving meagre resources from government. He said the development has contributed to low productivity.
The Malawi Forum for Agricultural Services (Mafas) observed recently during the stakeholders conference in Lilongwe on Friday that government has been paying little attention to extension services—a development which has led to underproduction in the sector.
Mafas board chairperson Charles Masangano faulted government for neglecting other sectors in the ministry while prioritising the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP).
He said: “The major issue is that activities done under extension services are not visible. People invest in extension services but we don’t see what is coming out. The problem is that if we cannot talk about functioning extension services, we cannot talk about development in agriculture.”
Masangano said farmers get fertilisers and seeds under AIP, but they cannot meaningfully utilise the resources without extension services.
“So, we are experiencing serious challenges in financing extension services. We need to keep on lobbying for more funding,” he said.
However, Masangano did not say how much is required to run extension services efficiently, only stating that services such as research and extension are sharing 22 percent of the allocation in the agricultural budget.
In response, Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Gracian Lungu said the ministry has set aside some resources for allocation to the extension service programme for the benefit of farmers in the country.
He blamed non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for keeping their budget information secret.
Said Lungu: “Government still faces challenges when rationalising extension services because of lack of information from NGOs regarding their budgets for such services. Government has noted duplication of efforts in some areas where NGOs operate as they are not able to share their budgets.”
He claimed that the country has adequate resources for extension services, adding that with transparency, the ministry should be able to establish how much the nation has for the sub-sector.
On the research findings, Lungu said CfSR did not engage the ministry on the criteria used to determine the underfunding to the sub-sector.
“If they had told us their criteria, the ministry could have responded comprehensively but for now, it’s very difficult to do so. But in general, government is sparing adequate resources for extension work in relative terms based on its resource envelope,” he said.
In an interview, Chinsinga observed that the agricultural sector is in a “state of flux” and that it does not only need resources but also transformational leadership.
He said: “Government needs to critically reflect on the issue of funding because the provision of inputs on its own cannot transform the agricultural sector. We need extension services, we need research and we need infrastructure.
“So, what is important for government when making decisions about resource allocation is to strike a strategic balance between resourcing and production.”
The Ministry of Agriculture recently launched the National Agriculture Extension and Advisory Service Strategy to guide service providers and their clients in the planning and implementation of different interventions of public importance.
The strategy has a component of sustainable financing of agriculture extension services as one of its pillars.
Despite underfunding concerns, Masangano said Mafas will be guided by the document in implementing activities under the extension services programme.