Diversion of fertiliser in Malawi’s K55 billion Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) worsened due to government’s failure to label bags of the cheap fertiliser to differentiate it from other fertilisers on the market.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Ulemu Chilapondwa, said in an interview that due to time constraints, his ministry failed to engage companies that won tenders to supply the fertiliser on labelling the Fisp bags before they started distributing them to selling points.
This made it difficult for authorities, especially the police, to trace stolen subsidised fertiliser and arrest the culprits.
Over K75 million worth of fertiliser targeted to benefit poor farmers who cannot afford farm inputs at market prices is said to have been diverted in Southern Region alone, leaving the targeted farmers with only coupons in their hands.
Chilapondwa said government failed to label the fertiliser because it worked behind schedule to implement the programme after it cancelled the initial contracts of fertiliser suppliers.
This year’s Fisp fertiliser is the first not to be labelled since the programme designed to help end hunger started around 2005/06. In previous Fisp programmes, government was marking Fisp fertiliser bags as “Not for Sale” or “Malawi Government”.
Chilapondwa said government labels Fisp fertiliser at warehouses of contracted fertiliser companies before they start distributing the bags to Admarc and other selling points.
He could, however, not give the total volume of fertiliser which has so far been diverted to unintended persons and the number of targeted poor farmers who have failed to access the fertiliser despite receiving coupons.
“We will definitely make sure that we label the fertiliser in the next programme,” said the deputy minister.
Some officials at the Agriculture Ministry this week confided in Weekend Nation that most of the Fisp fertiliser diversion occurred during transportation of the commodity from suppliers’ warehouses to selling points in rural areas as there was no police escort.
Deputy police commissioner Richard Luhanga confirmed this week that the police were not involved in escorting the fertiliser to selling points.
“In future, we would wish that police be involved from the planning stage of this programme because most of the diversion could have been prevented if police were involved from the beginning,” said Luhanga who is also officer-in-charge of Lilongwe Police.
In Lilongwe alone, he said police are handling over 20 cases of theft of the cheap fertiliser, adding that it was, however, difficult for them to successfully chase most of the reported complaints because of the labelling problem.
“It is very difficult to ascertain whether the fertiliser is for the subsidy programme or not because it’s not different from the one on the market,” said Luhanga.
Southern Region Police spokesperson Nicholas Gondwa on Thursday said they are handling 13 cases of fertiliser diversion in the region while Northern Region Police spokesperson Maurice Chapola said they are handling about 30 cases of theft of fertiliser in the region.
During the ongoing 2012/13 midterm budget review in Parliament, opposition parties have described this year’s Fisp as a failure.