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Cluster questions government’s Affordable Inputs Programme sincerity

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Sameer Suleman

Parliament’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Cluster Wednesday questioned government’s commitment to agriculture after learning that about one million farmers have not benefitted from the 2021-22 Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP).

The cluster took to task Ministry of Agriculture officials, who were at pains to explain how the number of beneficiaries dropped when President Lazarus Chakwera had directed that the number of 3.7 million beneficiaries be maintained.

Cluster members also wanted to know whether the ministry had quietly reduced the number of beneficiaries.

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The ministry officials, led by principal secretary Sandramu Maweru, appeared before cluster members yesterday.

The cluster learned that, by yesterday, about 2.65 million (about 70 percent) farmers out of 3.71 million had redeemed inputs.

Chairing the Agriculture and Natural Resources Cluster, Sameer Suleman, who is also Agriculture Committee of Parliament Chairperson, said the President assured the nation that the number of beneficiaries would not be reduced.

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He, however, expressed surprise that only about 2.6 million had bought affordable inputs.

“This year’s AIP was a failure. I always call a spade by its name. The AIP has let us down. Whether it was the issue of fertiliser or cartels or whatever has led to this, it should never happen again.

“We will make sure that, in the coming season, none of those members in the cartel will be allowed to supply fertiliser,” he said.

The committee has since agreed with ministry officials to buy fertiliser directly from Saudi Arabia without involving private traders.

Maweru, however, argued that the number of beneficiaries may increase since the programme is still running until March 15. He said the figure may reach 90 percent.

However, Maweru told the committee, towards the end of the meeting, that he had received new updates which had put the number of beneficiaries at 2.9 million.

“On the issue of cartels, we told the committee that we will ensure that we enforce what the President said, [to the effect] that the government should change focus and start buying fertiliser from manufacturers,” Maweru said.

The 2022-23 AIP budget has been trimmed from K142 billion to K106 billion, a development that will culminate in the reduction of the number of beneficiaries.

On Friday last week, Finance Minister Sosten Gwengwe told Parliament that the government would be reviewing AIP.

Last year, the ministry wanted to reduce the number of beneficiaries to 2.7 million, citing the K142 billion allocation for the programme as one of the factors.

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