The Donor Committee on Agriculture and Food Security (DCAFS) yesterday raised a number of critical questions over the efficiency of the K160.2 billion Affordable Input Programme (AIP).
Speaking during the Agriculture Joint Sector Review meeting in Lilongwe, Royal Norwegian Embassy and DCAFS Chairperson Ørnulf Strøm, while committing donor support towards the initiative, said it was no secret that most of Malawi’s development partners had been hesitant on AIP as well as its predecessor Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp). Strøm said, although the discussion on AIP recently has concentrated on implementation of the programme and logistical difficulties, there were other issues that needed to be considered.
“The budget for the AIP is K160.2 billion [about $215 million] which is almost half of Malawi’s annual agricultural budget. Malawi has a National Agriculture Investment Plan (NAIP) outlining what investments are needed in the sector. I wish to draw attention to the need for a better alignment between government spending and the National Agriculture Investment Plan in order to exploit synergies between the AIP and other agricultural investments, thereby crowding in benefits.
“What if some of the K160.2 billion had been invested to support small scale irrigation so farmers could embark on winter cropping? Or what if farmer groups or cooperatives had been supported to develop food products for sale to substitute some of the imports from South Africa?” asked Strøm. He added that investments in such infrastructure as stable energy production from hydropower and the sun would most likely benefit emerging commercial farmers more than a direct subsidy for seed and fertiliser. Strøm said the role of development partners was to support the government with both technical expertise and financial resources to achieve its own development goals in the sector as outlined in the National Agriculture Policy and the NAIP. “I hope that we will have open and frank discussions here today, when people with experience from government, academia, private sector and civil society will contribute. I also hope – and expect – that the outcome of this JSR will not only be nice words, but also concrete action,” he said.
The questions by DCAFS come barely two months after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) also raised concerns on the initiative in its Rapid Credit Facility Report on Malawi. The IMF said targeted cash transfers would be more effective in supporting rural households than the AIP.
IMF staff also expressed concern over the narrow focus of the programme on maize as opposed to Fisp, which also supported other crops. It also indicated that the initiative had inherent risks, especially if the farmer registry and National ID systems were not sufficiently linked.
The other hiccup, it warned, was literacy levels in the country, saying implementation of the e-voucher system was likely to be hampered by low literacy levels among some of the beneficiaries.
Agriculture Minister Lobin Lowe said the government was aware of concerns some sectors had with AIP. Lowe said his ministry was linking up with independent research institutions to give independent and objective lessons on the programme for future consideration.
“I would like to assure you that the government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, remains resolute to implement other fundamentally sustainable approaches to achieving food security in the country.
“However, considerations have also been made on the different time horizons of each intervention to address the problem of hunger in this country. Some measures are employed as short-term interventions while others are long term. AIP is a shortterm intervention aimed at addressing low productivity challenges experienced in the country as a result of inadequate access to agriculture inputs,” Lowe said.
He said the government would continue to implement more sustainable measures, citing the erection of irrigation infrastructure and livestock development, among others, to maintain vibrancy of the sector.