The Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) has called on the government to focus on cooperatives in the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) if the programme is to bear tangible fruits.
This comes against a backlash from economic commentators and development partners that the programme is a huge strain on the economy.
In the 2021-22 national budget, the programme was given K142 billion in order to benefits 3.7 million households with two bags of fertilisers and seed, and livestock for people in the Shire Valley.
MCCCI President James Chimwaza said cooperatives will not only address the food security problem but also address economic factors of households thereby improving macro economy and exports.
“Cooperatives need to be treated as a catalyst for food security and agricultural commercialisation. For example, if 30 people in a cooperative have been funded, some will be assigned to keep an eye on the business while others get knowledge to further their understanding on agriculture as a business,” Chimwaza said.
In an interview, Ministry of Agriculture Public Relations Officer Grecian Lungu said the suggestion borders on policy and therefore will be taken for scrutiny before consideration by the ministry.
“It is a policy issue and we will take all the suggestions from relevant stakeholders, review them and map the way forward. We first have to evaluate how the programme has performed since it was introduced two years ago before making such changes,” Lungu said.
Meanwhile, agriculturalist Leonard Chimwaza has backed the MCCCI proposal, saying assisting farmers through farmer-based organisations is the best way to food security.
He added that, through cooperatives, farmers can be assured of easy access to agriculture inputs.
“Successful implementation of this model can act as a basis for agro processing and value addition leading to production of quality products and ability to compete at the international market and benefit more from the AfCFTA,” he said.
Earlier, the Ministry touted the programme as a surplus in maize production registered in the 2020-21 farming season.
Critics of the programme have said if funds committed to the programme were invested in other sectors such as manufacturing for value addition, the return could be a significant boost to Malawi’s ailing economy.
Others have suggested that the programme should have been designed in a way that beneficiaries graduate and become independent from it unlike the current situation where the same people benefit every year.
A recent analysis by The Sunday Times uncovered that, in the past 17 years, the government had allocated over K700 billion to fertiliser subsidy alone, with the allocation grabbing between 30 and 59 percent of the total agriculture budget in more than 12 of the 17 years.
One study by the International Food Policy Research Institute found that, between 2007 and 2012, Malawi spent 52 percent of the agricultural budget on fertiliser subsidies, but only one percent went to extension services in that period.
Justin Mkweu is a fast growing reporter who currently works with Times Group on the business desk.
He is however flexible as he also writes about current affairs and national issues.