Honourable Minister, I am writing you this letter confident that you will create time out of your busy schedule to read it and appreciate the views therein. It is about concerns on your Tonse government’s flagship project—the Affordable Input Programme (AIP). You can be assured that I am projecting views that are also the concern of many people in the country. These are issues that have been carried over from the AIP’s precursor, the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp).
Let me start by commending government for the programme which in the 2020/21 fiscal year was initially budgeted at K160 billion before it was reduced to K142 billion, targeting 4.2 million households. For the huge number of households it intended to benefit and the commitment of such a colossal amount of money, AIP is the most radical reform in the agriculture sector aimed at attaining food security at household and national levels and to reduce poverty through increased access to improved farm inputs.
But as is the case with many good government policies and programmes, implementation is always a big problem. And so was AIP in its maiden year. You will agree with me, Hon Minister, that the programme was rocked with a myriad of problems. I will not bother you by mentioning them all here because you know them as much as you know the palm of your hand.
For whatever reasons, but not excluding corruption and leakages, only 3.4 million households received subsidised farm inputs in the 2020/21 agricultural season under AIP out of the planned 4.2 million households. This means that the AIP train left behind a whopping 800 000 farming households.
As you can see 800 000 is a very big number of farming households. If the aim of the programme is to achieve food security and poverty reduction in the beneficiary households, it means all these households will be food insecure this year and will need relief food. It will therefore make a lot of sense, Hon Minister, that in the 2021/22, government should prioritise the 800 000 households which missed the AIP locomotive last year. These should be the first to be registered as beneficiaries in this year’s programme.
To ensure this is done, I beseech you to personally follow up with all officials responsible for registering beneficiaries that this is seen to be done. We can borrow a leaf from the Malawi Electoral Commission which endeavours to be very transparent right from registering voters, to checking the voters’ roll, all the way to voting. It is annoying that such transparency is considered unnecessary when registering beneficiaries for AIP.
What is also very annoying and frustrating, Hon Minister, is that in many parts of the country, it is the same people who were under Fisp that are also benefitting from AIP, despite the latter programme targeting more people. Many who were being left out of Fisp were also excluded under the new programme last year. Why? And then as if this is not bad enough, the same households which received AIP materials will also receive relief food during the lean season from December to March next year.
Let me also hasten to add that although your registers show that 3.4 million households received AIP resources, the actual number of households who accessed AIP materials is much smaller. This is because a lot of ineligible people got the cheap materials meant for the ultra poor households who could not on their own buy inputs.
In the 2021/22 AIP programme, you should personally ensure your ministry in collaboration with other stakeholders such as fertilizer firms have put in place measures that will exclude all ineligible people from getting the inputs. But more importantly, government should devise means to ensure those who missed the cake in 2020/21 are prioritized this year. It will be a sad day to see that some of those who did not benefit from last year’s programme are again left in the cold this year.
I trust this is in order and that you will do the needful now that the 2021/22 budget—with K140 billion for AIP—has become law.