About 44 000 farming families have been removed from the list of beneficiaries of the 2013/14 Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp), The Nation has learnt.
The cut in the number of beneficiaries is despite the initiative’s budget jumping from the approved K40.6 billion (about $101.5m) in the 2012/13 fiscal year to K60.1 billion (about $150m) currently.
The beneficiaries’ reduction also comes as the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MoAFS) prepares to start beneficiary registration early next month.
The ministry’s spokesperson Sarah Tione confirmed the drop in beneficiaries from 1 544 000 in 2012/13 to 1.5 million this year.
She said the removed families were extra beneficiaries included in the programme last year to help them cope with adverse weather that affected some parts of the country.
Said Tione: “Last year, the total number of beneficiaries was 1 544 000 compared to this year’s 1. 5 million farming families. Last year’s increase was based on need in some areas due to late onset of rains and poor distribution.
“Dry spell and poor rain distribution forced government to include some beneficiaries on the list that were not supposed to be there in the first place.”
She added that the cut has affected all agriculture development divisions (ADDs) nationwide.
The ministry has since instructed all ADDs to reduce the number of beneficiaries by at least 10 000 each, according to information sourced by The Nation.
The 44 000 figure is the exact number that came up in a Weekend Nation story last year revealing that government had silently bought an additional 4 440 tonnes of fertiliser for the 2012/13 Fisp at an additional cost of $3 541497 (about K1.2 billion), thereby increasing the Fisp budget to K41.3 billion.
According to MoAFS documents we saw at the time, the additional 4 440 tonnes would be “enough for 44 000 beneficiaries” for the 2012/2013 Fisp.
But Tione said at the time that she was not aware of the additional purchases.
Procurement documents for the emergency procurement that the ministry’s Internal Procurement Committee (IPC) met on the matter and that principal secretary Dr. Geoffrey Luhanga sought a ‘No Objection’ from the Office of the Director of Public Procurement (ODPP) to facilitate the purchase. The ODPP also confirmed authorising the tender at the time.
During the last fiscal year, State House went about distributing free fertiliser to influential and opinion-shaping groups such as churches and traditional leaders, prompting some observers to worry that the additional farm input the ministry bought as an emergency was in fact going to non-deserving people instead of the poor.
Reacting to this year’s beneficiary reduction, the Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet) said on Wednesday that it is not surprised at the beneficiary cut as government had indicated that it would be reducing the numbers to the subsidy programme to accommodate President Joyce Banda’s agriculture loan schemes.
Said Cisanet executive director Tamani Mvula: “The Minister of Agriculture, when he was opening a Farmers Union meeting, indicated that they are going to reduce the number of beneficiaries to accommodate loans which were not budgeted for in the 2013/14 budget.
“President Banda, when opening the budget meeting [of Parliament], indicated that the number of beneficiaries this year was likely to go up, but now with the introduction of the loan scheme, the ministry decided to reduce the number of beneficiaries.”
But Mvula warned government against abusing the law as he argued that any expenditure not approved by Parliament is illegal.
“The loan scheme was not budgeted for [and] it would be improper for government to continue spending on a project that Parliament did not approve,” he said.