This year, government seems to be in a race against time is as far as the purchase and distribution of the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) is concerned. This is despite the fact that the rains are near. Our news analyst EPHRAIM NYONDO asks what, between Fisp and the Green Belt Initiative (GBI) could be a more sustainable programme for Malawi to eradicate its cyclic food insecurity?
The goal is to make Malawi food secure. But the means to that end is, since 1994, still problematic.
Bakili Muluzi’s administration tried with the ‘Starter Pack’ programme and its successor, the Targeted Inputs Programme (TIP). Government and donors committed billions to the programmes.
The end, however, was not achieved. For instance, Malawi experienced the worst food shortages in the 2001/2002 consumption season.
In 2004, the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s administration reviewed the TIP and turned it into the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp), targeting an average of 1.5 million beneficiaries.
Again, despite the steady rise in the billions allocated to it since 2004, the end of achieving food security is still stuck in the pipeline.
During the 2007/2008 growing season, according to recent figures on Production and Consumption Trends in Malawi, 63 234 people went hungry. That figure, with time, has been growing steadily. For instance, the figure rose to 1.6 million and 1.1 million in 2011/12 and 2012/12 consumption season respectively. This year has been worse. A record 2.8 million Malawi are going hungry in the season.
There is, however, an embedded tragedy in this story. Through Fisp, government has, every year since 2004, been committing an average of K45 billion to subsidise an average of 1.5 million to meet their household food security and that of the nation.
But, as noted earlier, the number of people going hungry has been rising steadily and government, with the help of development partners, has been coughing more money to provide food relief.
For instance, government allocated close to K40 billion for Fisp in the 2014/2015 financial year, yet it now requires about K84 billion to feed the 2.8 million that will go hungry.
This begs the question: Is Fisp the way to go to end hunger in Malawi in the long term or it is just a short-term burden on the economy?
Happy Kayuni, a policy specialist and a professor of governance at University of Malawi’s Chancellor College, says: “Malawi needs to invest more in long-term solutions to build resilience and break the cycle of hunger.”
However, building a long-term solution to hunger in Malawi is akin to listening to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)-a new, universal set of goals, targets and indicators that United Nations member States have adopted to use to frame their agendas and political policies over the next 15 years.
The SDGs follow and expand on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were agreed on by governments in 2001 and are due to expire at the end of this year.
SDG 12 is calling on nations to ensure ‘sustainable consumption and production patterns’.
“Achieving economic growth and sustainable development requires that we urgently reduce our ecological footprint by changing the way we produce and consume goods and resources. Agriculture is the biggest user of water worldwide.
“A large share of the world population is still consuming far too little to meet even their basic needs. Halving per capita global food waste at the retailer and consumer levels is also important for creating more efficient production and supply chains. This can help with food security and shift us towards a more resource efficient economy,” reads the goal in part.
Arguably, Fisp-a means of achieving food security-is not in tandem with ‘sustainable consumption and production patterns’.
Not only, amid cyclic financial challenges facing Malawi, is Fisp not sustainable in meeting its production demands. Most importantly, increased use of too much fertiliser, soil scientists warn, is not a sustainable way of interacting with the environment.
Patson Nalivata, a soil expert and lecturer at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar), argues that breaking the hunger cycle in Malawi needs serious investment in combating climate change.
“Crop failure in the country,” he argues, “is principally an effect of climate change.”
“We need, in the first place, to raise the profile of the organic matter in the soil. Currently, most of the soils in the country have about 1.4 percent of organic matter. This is tragic for farming.
“It means if a drought exceeds three weeks, even in the face of applying fertiliser, the root cannot access the nutrients from the soil,” says Nalivata.
He adds that the country needs strong research and investment in integrated soil fertility management.
“We need to work on how we can raise the organic matter of the soils. How we can manage to let the little water infiltrate in the soil,” he says.