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Experts tip government on agriculture output

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Pamela Kuwali

Agriculture experts have tipped the government to put in place containment measures for weather-related shocks and manage the cost of inputs in the 2021-22 growing season if it is to attain the projected 7.1 percent growth for the sector.

A financial stability report published by the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) indicates that the agriculture sector is poised to grow by 7.1 percent this year from 3.4 percent reported in the 2020-21 growing season.

The report further says the estimates are subject to downside risks owing to the persistence of the Covid pandemic, the slow uptake of the vaccine in the country and the economic impact of the third wave.

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In an interview Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet) Executive Director Pamela Kuwali said it is not clear whether the production registered in the past season could be sustained and increased in the 2021- 22 season.

Escalating fertiliser prices may affect agriculture production which, in turn, can affect growth in the sector. In this regard, apart from the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP), the government, in collaboration with stakeholders, should consider holistic strategies for growth.

“Key recommendations include implementing policies and strategies that can promote agricultural production for both food and commercial crops as well as facilitating profitable markets for a range of crops in the agricultural value chain,” Kuwali said.

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In a separate interview, agriculture expert Tamani Nkhono Mvula said, if maintained, the investment made under the AIP last year could spur growth of the sector to the projected figures.

“In as much as we are projecting risk from Covid, the main risk for the local agriculture sector is weather shocks. The Covid pandemic could affect distribution systems of inputs leading to the inputs being expensive because if fertilisers were affordable, growth could have been much higher. Seven percent is somewhere closer to reality,” Mvula said.

Another expert Felix Lombe said determinants of growth cited in the report are at macro level whereas at farmer level what matters are the commodity prices for the previous year and the cost of inputs.

However, he said the demand for produces will be heavily affected by Covid if industries were not operating at a good scale.

Spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture Grecian Lungu said such projections are made considering the broader agricultural disciplines.

He said the main triggers of the sector’s growth remain the AIP and good governance.

“Regardless of the Covid pandemic, farmers targeted under AIP are expected to produce enough food for food security and a surplus. On fertiliser prices, we are still expecting these prices to stabilise soon and the Smallholder Farmer Fertiliser Revolving Fund of Malawi is still selling these fertilisers at affordable prices of around K20, 000,” Lungu said.

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