About K3.4 billion worth of Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) fertiliser nutrients are wasted annually due to poor soil structure and agricultural specialists warn that the loss could worsen if environmental degradation continues in the country.
The loss has been calculated by Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) head of crop and soil science Patson Nalivata, who said three percent of fertiliser nutrients are eroded from farms into the rivers.
In an interview this week, he said they have established that the country loses 30 tonnes of soil per hectare annually, which is 108 kilogrammes (kg) of nitrogen and up to 300kg phosphorous.
Nalivata said: “What this means is that we are losing three percent of 50kg fertiliser bag through that loss of soil. Translated into monetary value, that means billions are being wasted.”
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, government is spending K19 500 on each of the programme’s 7 428 210 bags of fertiliser. In monetary value, the total cost is K144.8 billion. From this, the three percent loss translates to K3.4 billion.
The ministry’s director for land resources conservation Gertrude Kambauwa, in a separate interview, acknowledged that poor soil health has a negative impact on agricultural productivity.
To address the soil loss, she said government is promoting farming methods that enrich the soil.
Said Kambauwa: “We have a big problem with poor soil health due to loss of nutrients through erosion. We already have programmes in place whose main priority is to protect the soil from being swept away. The other initiative is focused on enriching the soil.”
She, however, said despite the programmes being in force for a long time, the results have not been impressive.
“Maybe we need to go back to the drawing board and assess how we are implementing the programmes and how we are engaging the farmers so that we establish where we are going wrong and try to improve,” Kambauwa said.
Last month, international and local agriculturists warned that the country risks suffering significant poor crop productivity in its Malawi 2063 (MW2063) agenda implementation if it fails to contain soil erosion which is degrading swathes of farm land.
The experts, who included United States-based University of Florida research professor Pedro Sanchez, urged government to use the AIP to promote products that preserve soil health.
Speaking in Lilongwe on December 2 2021 during the seventh Ndizotheka Eminent Speaker Series, which engages experts from different backgrounds to discuss ways of transforming the country’s development landscape, Sanchez called for integration of soil preservation interventions in the AIP.
He hailed the AIP for helping the country to be food secure, but cautioned that failure to boost soil health would render the programme meaningless in future.
Among others, Sanchez asked government to use the AIP to enhance legumes farming and use of organic fertilisers which are efficient in enriching the soils.
In his contribution, the ministry’s director of agriculture research services Wilkson Makumba said government is taking steps to incorporate soil fertility enhancement initiatives in the AIP.
“We have done research where we have recommended that we reduce the use of inorganic fertilisers and also incorporate legumes in the AIP like it was in the past.”
Minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe told journalists last week that implementation of this year’s AIP continues to be rocked by several hitches, including absence of suppliers on the ground leading to long queues of beneficiaries at the operational sites, and counterfeit fertilisers on the market.
But he said despite the challenges, government will ensure that farmers have a bumper harvest this year like last season to improve household and national food security.
AIP is a Tonse Alliance initiative which succeeded the Farm Inputs Subsidy Programme (Fisp) implemented by the Democratic Progressive Party.
In the 2021/22 budget, set to expire in March 2022, government allocated K142 billion towards the programme to benefit 3.7 million farming households. The AIP allocation represents half of the agriculture sector budget of K284 billion, according to data in budget documents.
Critics of the subsidy programme, including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, argue that it is draining government resources as it is purely consumptive.
In a separate interview, agriculture policy expert Tamani Nkhono Mvula said the developments surrounding this year’s AIP point to minimal success of the programme.