The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development is introducing a new system of identifying beneficiaries for the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) which will sideline the poor and marginalised from accessing low-cost fertiliser and seed in the coming growing season.
When Fisp was introduced in 2005, the target was “the poorest of the poor”, widows and other vulnerable groups such as child-headed homes, the aged and people with disabilities.
But in the 2015/16 growing season, these would not be directly targeted if agricultural development divisions (ADDs) have not registered them in village registers as maize growers.
Under the pilot programme, the 1.5 million Fisp beneficiaries will be randomly selected from a list of farming families submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development and these will pay K3 500 per 50 kilogramme (kg) bag of fertiliser, up from K500 in the last growing season.
Controller of Agriculture Services (Institutions) Gray Nyandule-Phiri outlined the measures in response to questions from members of the newly formed Government Assurances Committee of Parliament, which summoned the ministry to update Parliament on the progress of maize purchases, Fisp and the tractor hire scheme.
He said the pilot programme of identifying beneficiaries has been introduced following assessments by various stakeholders, among them donors and civil society organisations (CSOs), who found that 55 percent of beneficiaries of the programme have been on it since its inception 10 years ago.
Nyandule-Phiri cited annual assessments carried out by the Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM), Civil Society Agriculture Network (CisaNet) and Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID) as the basis for the decision to introduce the new system of identifying Fisp beneficiaries.
The ministry also carries out evaluation meetings at district level after implementation of Fisp and targeting challenges were identified at that level, added Nyandule-Phiri.
He said: “We have called for village registers. We have names of households engaged in maize growing. We won’t be able to say the needy will benefit because assessments which have been done in the past five years have shown that beneficiaries are not the needy because resource poor farmers get inputs just to sell them.
“It looks like we are moving towards productive farmers and that is why others have been pressurising us to move the poorest of the poor to cash transfer system.”
However, when Zomba Central member of Parliament (MP) Patricia Kainga queried how government would care for the poor who would no longer benefit from Fisp, Nyandule-Phiri said the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) would device mechanisms of reaching them through a cash transfer system because it is not with the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development.
However, there is no money yet identified for cash transfer as government is still discussing with potential donors.
CisaNet has produced a policy brief in which it has argued against shifting beneficiaries of Fisp from smallholder farmers to medium-scale farmers such as estates as this would go against the initial objective of the programme, which was to improve household food security.
CisaNet executive director Tamani Nkhono-Mvula said most of the food in Malawi is produced by smallholder farmers; hence, it would be imprudent to exclude them.
Despite providing subsidised fertiliser to 1.5 million Malawians this past growing season, the country has registered a 223 273 metric tonnes (MT) maize deficit although this output fall has also been attributed to prolonged dry spells and floods which took place in many parts of the country.
The Strategic Grain Reserves have to be stocked with 205 000MT of maize at a cost of K28.7 billion, of which 90 000MT will be for relief purposes.
So far, government has procured 30 000MT of maize from Zambia which will be distributed to Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) depots for sale apart from guaranteeing a K2 billion loan from commercial banks for Admarc to buy maize locally. n