Steria Chidontha, 39, is among the 51 percent of Malawi’s population that lives in poverty. No wonder, she has been a beneficiary of the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) since its inception in 2005.
Over the years, the programme has helped Chidontha, who is a widow with four children, to achieve food security in her home.
“Fisp has helped me to have enough food since 2005. I cannot afford to buy fertiliser in the shop because it is expensive for a poor woman like me,” she says.
However, Chidontha has no kind words for the way Fisp has been handled in 2015/2016 growing season, especially in Traditional Authority (T/A) Mkukula in Dowa.
Chidontha, from Nthache Village in the area, says this growing season she did not buy fertiliser despite having a coupon. The selling period ended before she could use her coupon.
She is not the only one to have cried foul over Fisp this year. In T/A Mkukula, 29 out of 36 villages did not buy Fisp fertiliser although people still have the coupons.
This forced one of the villagers, 28-year-old Omen Kachijade, to start searching for justice on how Fisp was carried out in the area.
Kachijade, who calls himself a village activist, says he discovered that some were selling the commodity to vendors from Dowa Boma.
He reported the matter to various institutions such as Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Anti-Corruption Bureau, Action Aid and Malawi Police but, he says, not much was done about it.
One day when he heard, Civil Society for Agriculture Network (Cisanet) national coordinator Tamani Nkhono-Mvula speaking about Fisp and other agricultural issues on radio, Kachijade decided to find Nkhono-Mvula and brief him about the challenges of Fisp in Mkukula area.
He travelled from Dowa to Lilongwe to meet Nkhono-Mvula, who assured him that Cisanet looks into agricultural issues.
Following Kachijade’s visit, Cisanet officials led by programmes officer Tamiwe Kayuni recently visited the area where they organised an interactive meeting with financial support from Irish Aid.
According to Kayuni, the meeting was organised to hear the people’s complaints. The villagers did not hide their anger, describing this growing season’s Fisp as a waste of government resources. They demanded justice on the programme.
“This is a good programme which enables us to have enough food at household level. However, this growing season, many people are angry at the way the programme was handled. There was corruption as vendors from Dowa Boma came to buy the fertiliser, leaving the real beneficiaries without fertiliser,” says senior group village head Kapondasoka.
Kayuni says by interacting with the farmers, her organisation realised the loopholes that the programme had in the area.
“However, the mandate of Cisanet is not to give farmers the much needed farm inputs like other non-governmental organisations [NGOs] do. What Cisanet will do in this case is to publicise this problem so that relevant authorities should pick it up and intervene. Cisanet wants to see sanity in the agriculture sector by advocating for good and transparent implementation of Fisp and other policies,” she says.
However, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Allan Chiyembekeza says his office has never received a complaint that some people have not bought subsidised fertiliser despite having coupons.
“My office has not received such complaints. If farmers still have coupons, it means there is fertiliser somewhere. Let them channel their problems to my office and we will assist them accordingly,” says Chiyembekeza.
Kachijade says he will mobilise chiefs to visit the minister’s office.
“What we want is justice and transparency on how the programme was implemented in our area,” he says.
Nkhono-Mvula says Cisanet’s eyes are on government to review and revise Fisp so that there is no corruption and that all intended beneficiaries get the farm inputs.
“If government revises the programme and curbs corruption in the system, many farmers will benefit, and that will be the way to go in achieving food security at household and national levels,” he says.
This year, the programme targeted 1.5 million beneficiaries. n