By Pharison Chiphinga Mwale:
The government introduced the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) in 2020. It was initially budgeted at a cost four times higher than its predecessor, the Farm Inputs Subsidy Programme (Fisp) which ran from 2005 to 2019.
The objective of both the Fisp and AIP was to allow Malawian subsistence farmers to purchase farm inputs at a subsidised cost.
The government, through this programme, aims to reduce poverty and ensure food security at household and national levels by increasing access to improved farm inputs.
The Ministry of Agriculture and district councils identified and registered 2,500,000 farming households ahead of the 2022-23 programme.
President Lazarus Chakwera, subsequently, officially launched the programme in Dedza on November 19 2022.
The programme has, however, been riddled with inconsistencies where authorities have failed to manage the expectations of the stakeholders in general and beneficiaries in particular from the identification and registration stage.
Communities were called upon to submit national identification cards for registration though their traditional leaders.
Minister of Agriculture Sam Kawale and Minister of Information Gospel Kazako have been providing updates assuring the nation and beneficiaries that all is well and there is no need to panic because the program is progressing according to plans after addressing initial bottlenecks.
They have kept on assuring the nation by explaining the process, the timing and exactly what scope there was for stakeholders to influence decisions. They made sure that everyone understood the process and the expectations they can draw from the process.
It is evident that the government has a roadmap in place which has been regularly shared and diversions explained.
Stakeholders have seen the programme go through several stages and transitions. The process has been communicated to enable the beneficiaries to anticipate what is happening and when.
However, in the absence of a two-way communication, as mostly authorities have not been ready to listen and receive feedback, there has been no meaningful stakeholder participation in the process.
Stakeholders seem informed by a range of perspectives and information sources outside the control of authorities.
Authorities have acted as if they had all the facts and failed to wade off myths or clearly state facts from reliable sources when confronted to clarify allegations.
Government has ignored many perspectives and failed to take into consideration the valid points many stakeholders made and failed to adjust plans in a timely manner.
Not all information regarding progress of the programme has been communicated. Stakeholder sentiments have been about how they feel towards the programme and any issues that have arisen.
All along, the smallholder farmers that were identified and registered had the hope that they would buy fertiliser at K15,000 per 50 kilogramme (kg) bag.
Apart from the irregular distribution of the inputs, with most places yet to be supplied so many weeks into the rainy season, there is a sudden shortlisting criterion of the registered beneficiaries.
For example, at Chiseka in Lilongwe, it has been announced that every VDC will have 40 beneficiaries only accessing the inputs.
Registered beneficiaries interviewed randomly expressed disappointment in the way authorities have managed the whole programme saying they expected the initial identification process to use the criteria being introduced now.
They see betrayal in the way the process has been handled because they were deceived into budgeting for the subsidised price and not the commercial price.
“We cannot raise the money last minute to meet our requirements and, therefore, we have no option but to uproot the maize and replace it with cassava or potatoes. But even those shortlisted are struggling to raise the K30,000,” one of the farmers said.
This failure to manage stakeholder expectations will reverse the aim of the government to reduce poverty and ensure food security at household and national levels and, instead, be a catalyst for creating hunger and aggravating poverty levels.
Going forward, it would be suggested that government should proceed as follows:
- Evaluate the frameworks of all the farm inputs subsidy programmes the government has implemented and draw lessons from the strengths and weaknesses of each one of them and formulate an improved framework.
- The authorities should acknowledge and actively monitor the concerns of all legitimate stakeholders and should take their interest appropriately into account in decision making and operations.
- The authorities should listen to, and openly communicate with, stakeholders about their respective concerns and contributions and about the risks they assume because of their involvement.
- The authorities should adopt processes and models of behaviour that are sensitive to the concerns and capabilities of each stakeholder constituency.
- The authorities should recognise the interdependence of efforts and rewards among stakeholders and should attempt to achieve fair distribution of the benefits and burdens of the activities among them, taking into account their respective risks and vulnerabilities.
- The authorities should work cooperatively with other entities, both public and private, to ensure that risks and harms arising from the activities are minimised and where they cannot be avoided, appropriately compensated.
- The authorities should acknowledge the potential conflict between their political role and their legal and moral responsibilities for the interests of all stakeholders and should address such conflicts through open communication, appropriate reporting and incentive systems and, where necessary, third-party review.
*The author is a seasoned banker and an academician with interests in corporate governance and strategic management.