Despite President Lazarus Chakwera reversing Ministry of Agriculture’s decision to reduce beneficiaries of the Affordable Input Programme (AIP) from 3.7 million to 2.7 million, some districts are still maintaining the trimmed list in their preparations.
Spot-checks in the country’s three regions show that some of the districts are yet to revert to last year’s beneficiary list due to lack of formal communication from the Ministry of Agriculture.
While acknowledging a communication breakdown, Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Gracian Lungu yesterday said they still have last year’s list of beneficiaries in the database and that all that was required was to update it.
He said: “We had a list of the beneficiaries and we still have which we will have to use. So, we already have a database which we will use.”
On the state of preparedness for this year’s AIP, Lungu said he could not comment for now since there are certain decisions that have to be made first both by Cabinet and the ministry itself.
Efforts to follow up with Lungu again proved futile as he did not pick up our calls while Minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe asked for the ministry to be given more time, saying a statement will be issued in the coming weeks.
In July, the ministry announced that it would reduce the number of AIP beneficiaries from 3.7 million in the previous growing season to 2.7 million. Weeks later, the President then said no one would be removed from the list.
But in an interview yesterday, Civil Society Agriculture Network (CisaNet) executive director Pamela Kuwali said government needs to come out clear on the exact number of beneficiaries for purposes of accountability and transparency.
She said: “We indeed notice that we are yet to get clarity on the total number of beneficiaries and we also know the ministry was faced with the tough decision to trim the number of beneficiaries due to escalating prices of fertiliser which has put a constraint on the AIP budget.
“In an ideal situation, the best course of action would be to increase the AIP budget and not reduce the number of beneficiaries. However, in reality, the question is how practical would this be. Would Treasury shoulder the burden?”
In a separate interview, agriculture policy expert Tamani Nkhono-Mvula said there is need for the Ministry of Agriculture to brief the nation to clarify on the matter.
He said: “What we need now is for the Minister of Agriculture to call for a press conference and clarify on this issue so that everyone should know what’s going on because the message is that no one is going to be trimmed, and if the technical side is working with dropped numbers, then it is confusing.”
Nkhono-Mvula said Chakwera’s sentiments that no one will be removed from the list of beneficiaries would have simply meant a nullification of the ministry’s decision to trim the list of beneficiaries.
On August 21, Chakwera said in a national address that he would not allow anyone to be removed from the beneficiaries list as he holds farmers in high esteem and would deal with anyone abusing them.
“I will not allow anyone to remove any family or village from the list of beneficiaries of the cheap fertiliser. Kumeneko ndikutengera boma kuntoso ngati nyama ya galu [that is taking government for granted],” he said. In the 2021/22 National Budget, funding to the AIP was reduced to K140.2 billion from K160 billion in the 2022/21 National Budget