There are new bottlenecks in the roll out of this year’s Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) which has involved a lot of small and medium scale (SMEs) in government’s effort to empower them.
With rains just around the corner farmers who are expected to apply basal dressing a week after planting are yet to acquire subsidised fertiliser. Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Gracian Lungu confirmed in an interview the suppliers are still waiting for contracts to use as collateral to get loans from commercial banks and buy AIP materials.
He said by the time of launching the programme suppliers had already signed acceptance offer letters.
“After that we were supposed to give them the contracts to sign and that exercise is either ending today or tomorrow. Others have signed but some have declined due to their own reasons. So we are receiving those signed contracts,” said Lungu.
He said the successful traders would use the contracts as collaterals to access bank loans and procure the fertilisers from manufacturers either locally or abroad.
“This will not take time because most of the companies already indicated possible fertiliser suppliers under what we call letter of proceeds where the ministry will directly pay the banks where the suppliers will withdraw their money,” explained Lungu.
The spokesperson said unlike the previous years, government has issued most contracts to SMES whom he conceded have challenges to get loans from commercial banks without solid proof of security.
However, Lungu said other AIP suppliers such as Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) were just working on “some logistical issues” to start selling the cheap inputs which they already dispatched and delivered in some depots especially in hard-to-reach-areas.
The development comes two weeks after President Lazarus Chakwera launched the programme on October 16 at St Theresa in Chiradzulu. This programme is designed to benefit about 3.7 million smallholder farming households.
But Weekend Nation has also established that the number of beneficiaries in some areas has been reduced despite President Chakwera’s directive that no person out of the 3.7 million should be left out.
In Blantyre City South East, for example, hundreds of households are lost in thoughts because their names are not appearing on the list of beneficiaries.
Traditional leaders in the area declined to accept the register after realising that several names of their subjects were missing on the provided list.
“We wanted an explanation from the officials because their registers were suspicious. While several names of our subjects were missing, the list contained names of deceased villagers, unknown people and people that left the village long ago,” explained group village Head (GVH) Likotima from Traditional Authority (T/A) Kapeni.
Yesterday about 32 aggrieved GVH and village heads and members of their village development committees (VDCs) gathered at Senior GVH Ntambo headquarters to be briefed by officials from the ministry on their predicament.
Among other registers Weekend Nation saw, instead of 478 beneficiaries from GVH Likotima only 200 are appearing while GVH Buleya has been given 147 names out of 227.
Member of Parliament for Blantyre City South East Sameer Suleman described the significant reduction of beneficiaries in his constituency as unfortunate.
“Finally, I have been vindicated because when I was querying the programme some people thought I was politicking. I will repeat what I have always said that government is lying that the list of beneficiaries will remain 3.7 million.
“Secondly, that we already have enough fertiliser in the country is another lie. I challenge the minister responsible to come out and tell Malawians the truth about this year’s AIP,” said Suleman, who is also chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture and Food Security.
He said his committee was waiting for the ministry to conclude the process and then demand the final register to confirm the exact figure of the beneficiaries.
Last week, the committee also faulted the ministry for proceeding with the launch of the programme when the country does not have the required quantities of fertiliser.
In July this year, the ministry announced a reduction of beneficiaries from 3.7 million to 2.7 million, citing financial constraints and rising fertiliser prices but Chakwera reversed the decision, saying he will not allow it because he holds farmers in high-esteem.
Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) president Frighton Njolomole has since pleaded with government to expedite the programme implementation, arguing farmers were already in their gardens and any further delay would be disastrous.
FUM’s appeal follows predictions from the Department of Climate Change and Metrological Services that the country would likely start receiving rains by next week.
Njolomole said it was disheartening that government has not yet started providing the inputs when most farmers started preparing their gardens in September.
From about 400 local companies that expressed interest to take part in the AIP, the ministry awarded retail, warehousing and distribution contracts to 164 private and public firms to supply the inputs in the 2021/22 programme.
Ministry of Agriculture Principal Secretary Erica Maganga told The Nation last week that the country had enough fertiliser stocks to kick-start the programme, having procured about 127 000 metric tonnes (MT) of fertiliser which is part of the buffer stock of 75 000 MT already supplied.
Maganga said the AIP requires about 374 000 MT and the available 127 000 MT was 34 percent of the requirement. The total fertiliser requirement for both AIP and for commercial purposes is 620 000 MT, according to Maganga.
But Fertiliser Association of Malawi executive administration officer Mbawaka Phiri when contacted by The Nation said it would be difficult to tell how much fertiliser was in the country as they only keep records of their members.
Under AIP, some 30 000 households in Shire Valley districts of Nsanje and Chikwawa, due to the challenges of rains they have been experiencing over the years, will this year receive she-goats.
Each household is expected to get two she-goats after contributing K7 500 per goat while government will contribute K19 500 per goat.
During this financial year, AIP has been allocated K140.2 billion which is almost the same amount it was allocated in the 2020/21 National Budget. About K124.74 billion of the amount is earmarked for fertiliser purchases, K1.26 billion for goats’ purchase and K12.25b illion for seeds.