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Agriculture Inputs Programme races against time

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Sameer Suleman

Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture has written President Lazarus Chakwera seeking a meeting with him over this year’s Agriculture Inputs Programme (AIP) as the farming season is around the corner.

The programme needs extra funds following Chakwera’s decision to reverse agriculture officials’ earlier decision to reduce the number of beneficiaries from around 3.7 million to around 2.7 million because of rising prices of fertiliser.

In the 2021-22 National Budget, Parliament approved K142 billion for AIP, a marked reduction from the K160 billion allocation provided in the 2020-21 farming season. Spot-checks indicated that a 50 kilogramme bag of fertiliser is selling at K40,000 from K20,000.

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State House Director of Communications and the President’s Executive Assistant Sean Kampondeni told a news conference at the State House yesterday that Chakwera was still consulting stakeholders on prices of fertiliser and that the public would be informed about the way forward.

Kampondeni said, when the President finalises consultations and makes a resolution, relevant ministries would announce the way forward.

He added that Chakwera was satisfied with the fertiliser market’s response after he warned stakeholders against sabotaging AIP.

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Chairperson for the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture Sameer Suleman said in an interview that his committee asked for a meeting with Chakwera on AIP to give its input but no response had come yet.

He warned that the government could not ask for extra funds for the programme without the involvement of Parliament, adding that further delays to execute the programme would work against the farming calendar.

Suleman said, for the one million beneficiaries to remain on the list, there was a need for extra funds.

“At the same time, we hear that they are discussing ways of sourcing funds— something that Parliament is not aware of. We are just learning about it through the social media,” Suleman said.

“Parliament already approved funds for that programme. The money that was there is not enough, according to what the government is saying now. There is a need for them to come back and ask for extra resources. We need to know what is happening around the programme,” he said

Agriculture expert Tamani Nkhono Mvula urged Chakwera to end the confusion that has engulfed the AIP because it was working against the farming season.

Mvula said there was a need for the government to hasten processes and clear all confusion to avoid having no inputs at the peak of the farming season.

“We hoped that farmers should have started buying fertiliser now but the confusion and uncertainty would delay several things and pose a challenge because, if fertiliser starts moving while rains have started, it will bring back problems the programme faced last time,” he said.

Because of the high cost of fertiliser, the government initially reduced the number of AIP beneficiaries.

Chakwera, nevertheless, described high prices of fertiliser as sabotage to the programme.

With the current price, the government would need over K70 billion to successfully implement AIP.

The Fertiliser Association of Malawi attributed the rise to changes in global prices.

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