A Civil Society Agriculture Network (CisaNet) report has exposed challenges in the Affordable Input Programme (AIP) and has since warned that failure to address the hitches will negatively affect the programme’s success.
In the report, which was presented to the Ministry of Agriculture on Friday complete with recommendations, CisaNet observes that implementation of the AIP is, among others, riddled with network and system challenges, which are causing delays in the distribution exercise and have created loopholes for malpractices among suppliers, with some demanding bribes to assist beneficiaries.
The report comes days after Minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe told a press briefing in Lilongwe last week that about 3.9 million households are yet to access the low cost inputs due to logistical problems and other challenges.
It further states that some deserving smallholder farmers have not been included on the beneficiaries’ list and that there is poor coordination and inadequate and untimely district level financing which has not allowed a smooth flow of information on the whole process.
Reads the report in part: “Although there was some awareness about the new programme at the district secretariat and among agro-dealers, farmers have little understanding of modalities of the AIP as they did not receive enough information.
“Farmers mostly received the information through extension workers, radio and village chiefs. Covid-19 restrictions, however, affected effective reach to farmers.”
According to CisaNet, the report follows a rapid assessment conducted early this month following complaints from various stakeholders, including concerns on delays in the implementation of the programme in certain parts of the country that have started receiving rains.
The report has since recommended that the Ministry of Agriculture should increase network coverage and human resource, increase the number of outlets, update beneficiaries’ list and provide adequate and timely financing at district level for smooth implementation of the programme.
Reads part of the recommendation: “There should be an increase in security and monitoring to prevent farmers from re-selling their fertilisers and schedule buying time as most outlets are overwhelmingly congested, putting farmers at risk of contracting Covid-19.”
Meanwhile, CisaNet executive director Pamela Kuwali has warned that failure to resolve the challenges and implement the recommendations will have negative consequences on the success of the programme.
She said: “The programme may not be able to achieve objectives and the investment will likely be lost. K160 billion is a huge amount of money.”
Kuwali said given the huge investment, every effort should be made to ensure the programme is successful and farmers benefit.
She said the assessment sought to understand key challenges in the programme’s implementation thus far to provide recommendations in support of CisaNet’s strategic priorities of accountability and transparency to help improve performance in the agriculture sector.
In an interview with The Nation last week, agricultural policy and development expert Tamani Nkhono-Mvula said if challenges being encountered in the AIP are not swiftly addressed, there will be negative consequences on the outcome on this year’s agricultural output.
The AIP, which replaced the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) that was initiated by the Democratic Progressive Party administration, was allocated K160.2 billion out of the K245 billion allocation to the agriculture sector.
Out of the total allocation, K132.7 billion is for fertiliser payments, K25.7 billion for seeds and K1.8 billion for logistics. It represents a 78 percent increase from the K36 billion allocation to the Fisp.
Lowe yesterday could not be reached for comment on numerous attempts while both Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Gracian Lungu and Principal Secretary Erica Maganga requested for questionnaires which were yet to be responded to by press time.
But during the press briefing on Friday, Lowe said the ministry is working on rectifying the network glitches and warned that government will terminate contracts of suppliers shunning rural areas as doing so is a violation of terms of reference stipulated in their contracts.
The minister said as of last week, only 394 000, or seven percent of the 4.2 million targeted beneficiaries have so far accessed the inputs.
Said Lowe: “By the end of next week, we will have over 30 percent of farmers accessing farm inputs.”
He said as of November 11, 14 515 metric tonnes (MT) of NPK out of 213 800 MT was bought. He said 13 388 MT of Urea out of 213 800 MT was also bought by farmers.
The AIP was launched by President Lazarus Chakwera on October 17 at Jali in Zomba. The programme is targeting 4.2 million smallholder farmers with each beneficiary receiving one 50 kilogramme (kg) bag of NPK fertiliser and one 50 kg bag of Urea as well as a pack of either five kg maize seed or seven kg sorghum or seven kg of rice.
Under the programme, farmers are paying K4 495 for a 50 kg bag of fertiliser and K2 000 per pack of cereal.
About 83 private suppliers and two public institutions—Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation and Smallholder Farmers Fertiliser Revolving Fund of Malawi—were contracted to supply farm inputs for the programme.