Malawi needs to set up a Young Graduates’ Fund from where innovative entrepreneurs could get guidance and funding for dynamic projects which can bring household and national food security.
Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, Joseph Chidanti Malunga, gave the suggestion in Lilongwe on Thursday, as one innovative way of replacing the national Fertiliser Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) which is dogged by political and logistical problems.
His remarks came after some stakeholders at pre-budget consultations—hosted by the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development— expressed frustration with the subsidy programme.
They said the programme is increasingly missing its goal of promoting household and national food security through government’s provision of quality seeds and subsidised fertiliser to smallholder farmers.
“We can adopt such a fund from Botswana, where it is working very well,” said Malunga. He added that a nationwide tour by his committee members shows that crooked input ‘suppliers’ and other businesspeople have given ordinary Malawians a raw deal in Fisp.
“We would have to use, say, K20 billion from the K44 billion we have spent on Fisp, to set up such a fund. It will be scrutinising business plans and guiding and funding innovative youths to take up agriculture as a business,” enthused Malunga.
He said his committee would present this proposal at a national conference that needs to meet urgently to discuss how to gradually phase out Fisp and use the funds on projects that can transform ordinary people and the nation.
Malunga lamented the fact that the initial intentions of Fisp have been hijacked by some crooked input ‘suppliers’ who trick farmers into selling a K15 000-worth coupon for only K5 000.
In turn, the buyer—who cheats the farmer that he or she will lose out because there are no inputs to go around—makes a K10 000 profit per coupon after claiming payment from government, he noted.
“It is clear that, over the years, Fisp has been losing its usefulness as a tool for helping smallholder farmers. This programme has failed and it has outlived its usefulness,” Malunga charged.
Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) president Alfred Kapichira Banda also agreed that Fisp is a failure and needs to be replaced with dynamic projects that must be scrutinised and approved at a national forum.
“Such a meeting should involve the vulnerable small farmers, too, who have been taken for a ride and have become poorer by the year. Agro-industry organisations, Ministry of Agriculture officials and chiefs should also be part of such a crucial meeting,” he said.
Banda seemed to agree with Malunga’s suggestion but rather than opting for a Trust, he said a bank for farmers would be ideal in boosting food security in the country.
“Only farmers with gardens, or farms, should be given loans from such a bank. I tell you, this country can be food secure in no time,” he declared.
Banda said Fisp has become a scandal because its budget is drained right from the coupon-printing stages to project officers’ expenditure on air tickets and fuel and personal allowances outside and inside the country.
During the first few years, after its introduction 13 years ago, Fisp proved effective to poor farmers who enabled Malawi to retain its earlier status of feeding itself after many years of food insecurity.
Some agriculture experts and some politicians have felt that a universal subsidy programme could best replace the programme, although some commentators also found other faults with even this proposal.n