Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has attributed a projected 25 percent increase in maize crop production to the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) despite the initiative not yielding similar results in recent years.
Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Joseph Mwanamvekha yesterday announced the first round of crop estimates at a news conference in Lilongwe. The estimates indicate that maize production has gone up by 25 percent from 2.6 million metric tonnes (MT) to 3.3 million MT in 2018/19.
While these are merely first round crop estimates and are likely to change owing to several factors, including a change in rainfall pattern or through pre and post-harvest losses, the minister said the increases were made possible due to Fisp, in particular the increase in the number of beneficiaries from 900 000 in 2017/18 to one million in the 2018/19 farming season.
The 100 000 increase of beneficiaries and the subsequent increase in production, according to Mwanamvekha, have vindicated government that Fisp is a programme that is beneficial for food security of Malawians.
But even when government was spending between K35 billion and K43 billion on Fisp over the past five years, millions of Malawians have continued to face food shortages.
Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Survey (Mvac) for 2017/18 growing season put the estimated number requiring food aid at 3.3 million people, or about 660 000 households.
In 2016/17, K35.5 billion was allocated for the purchase of maize against the provision for Fisp of K33.1 billion while in 2017/18, the government allocated K10 billion for food aid against K33 billion for Fisp for the following year.
In the current year, about K41 billion has been spent on Fisp with an increase of 100 000 beneficiaries, which some attributed to wooing votes ahead of the May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections against K20 billion spent on buying maize to cater for those who did not harvest enough the previous year.
But when this was put to Mwanamvekha, he insisted that much as they cannot compute how much of the 3.3 million metric tonnes production could be attributed to Fisp, the 11 percent increase in the number of beneficiaries had largely contributed to the increase.
He said: “While this is just an estimate and we cannot predict with certainty how much Fisp has contributed, but perhaps one could ask what would have happened without Fisp. Fisp has always contributed to food security, it is one of the best instruments to improve the lives of Malawians.”
The minister also attributed the projected maize surplus to good rains which enabled a good crop in maize and other crops.
But with the first round maize estimates, it is likely that the number of people requiring food assistance will go down in 2018/19.
Agriculture is the backbone of the country’s economy and vital for the livelihoods of most Malawians, including national and household food security.
The sector generates around a third of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), accounts for 65 percent of employment and wires in around 60 percent of export earnings.
Its criticality to the country gets more pronounced when forward and backward linkages are factored in. Thus, when linkages of agricultural production and processing with input supply, trade and transport service are brought into the equation, the broader agri-food system contributes 44 percent to GDP and generates 74 percent of employment.
Agriculture is also critical for Malawi’s trade. While balance of trade for agricultural products is positive, the country faces a large overall trade deficit importing more than twice its exports.
While crops dominate the agricultural sector accounting for 17 percent of GDP followed by forestry at nine percent, production is concentrated on one main food crop (maize) and one main cash crop (tobacco).
Maize is by far the most dominant crop grown by almost every farmer in Malawi and accounting for about 50 percent of the entire planted area. As the main source of food, maize has been at the centre of agricultural policies and public expenditures for decades. At the same time, the maize-centred approach to food security has contributed to a limited dietary diversity at household and national levels such that only 25 percent of the population are able to meet the dietary diversity.
The results of the first round of crop estimates also show that all the eight agricultural development divisions (ADDs) will have an increase in maize and other crop production compared to the 2017/18 agricultural season.
Shire Valley ADD which experienced floods and harvested 67 360 MT has production risen by 99 percent to 134 597 MT.
Blantyre ADD registered 705 133 MT in the first round compared to 445 038 MT in the final round in 2017/18 while Machinga ADD has gone up by 32 percent to 337 716 MT this first round.
The results are a reflection of cause and effect of good rainfall patterns and high yields.
Since 2014/15, crop production has continued to go down as a result of either dry spells, floods and in recent years, the infestation of fall armyworms.
From 3.9 million MT in 2013/14 to 2.8 million in 2014/15 then going up slightly to 3.2 million 2016/17, 2.7 million MT in 2015/16 then 2.8 million MT in 2017/18, maize production at first round has remained consistent with the final round showing a small decrease.
The second round survey is scheduled to take place between February and March for purposes of verification, correction and used to inform policy decisions on projected crop production in the country.
The third round of the survey will run from April to May and involves weighing of harvest to obtain actual yield of crops based on the sampled households.
Since its inception in 2005, Malawi has invested about K398.6 billion in Fisp, an equivalent of a third of the current K1.4 trillion national budget, raising calls from opposition parties and other commentators, including Economics Association of Malawi (Ecama), for government to abolish the programme because it is not achieving its intended purpose.