Hon Minister, I have specifically addressed this note to you so that you can give it the special attention it deserves. You are the chief adviser to the President on agriculture in the country.
All policy issues on the sector—the mainstay of the economy—pass through your office for vetting or to get your seal. In short, nothing happens in this country on agriculture without your blessings.
I am coming to you now because so much is being said about beneficiaries of the Affordable Input Programme (AIP) for this year. And yet against this din and all the hullaballoo there is deafening silence on one critical group of people. These are the 800 000 people who missed the AIP train last year and, therefore, in the interest of fairness ought to be given priority and advance boarding tickets this year.
Last year, Government stashed away a dizzying K160 billion—almost half the agriculture ministry budget—for AIP to benefit 4.5 million people. Suffice to say the budget and beneficiaries were later reduced to K140.2 billion to cater for 3.7 million people.
On June 10, 2021, I reminded you Hon Minister, on this very page, about the importance of giving priority to these 800 000 unfortunate souls left out of the programme last year. This, I said, would ensure AIP does not benefit the same people year in year out.
Early last month your ministry announced it had further reduced last year’s beneficiary list of 3.7 million to 2.7 million. Then on August 21, 2021 President Lazarus Chakwera warned against trimming the number of farmers benefiting from the programme.
He said: “Kumeneko ndi kutengera boma kumtoso [taking government for granted]”.
As I argued in the earlier article, even the 3.7 million is only on paper. The actual number of farming households who received AIP materials last year should be much smaller. This is because the programme was fraught with rampant leakages and corruption. Many ineligible people accessed the material.
My argument is that whatever number of beneficiaries Government has prepared for this year, it should first have the 800 000 excluded from last year’s original list.
Prioritising these people will mean government is still alive and geared to achieving the main goal of AIP, which is to attain food security at household and national levels and to reduce poverty through increased access to improved farm inputs. But these goals will remain unattainable if Government gives AIP materials to the same people every year.
But the disturbing news trickling in through this platform is that the Ministry of Agriculture has not changed the list of beneficiaries. The same people that benefitted last year will also receive this year. Hon Minister, do your homework.
If this is indeed the case, then the programme is wide off the mark on achieving its goals.
After last year’s chaos, your ministry was also expected to put in place measures that would exclude all ineligible households from getting the inputs. In the 2020/21 AIP season, people were sympathetic to your government. It was a trial year considering the short time government had to put together and roll out such a massive programme. But that sympathy won’t be there anymore this year.
One can only hope you are dotting the I-s and crossing the t-s in your planning. No late deliveries, no network hitches, no ineligible beneficiaries and no any excuses. But most importantly, you will first sort out the 800 000 left in the cold last year.
Let me sign off here. Thank you in advance for considering the next action. I can assure you, Hon minister, I will come back on the same issue to shake hands with you for doing the needful.