Farmers across the country are expressing concern over the progress of this year’s Affordable Input Programme (AIP), arguing that it has the potential to affect their productivity following the onset of the rainy season.
Random checks with farmers that Malawi News did over the week has revealed that apart from the network challenges that the programme is facing, most farmers are failing to access the inputs due to, among others, unavailability in various designated outlets.
A farmer from Chikwawa who we spoke to, said during first days, things were moving just fine before the issue of network hiccups came in and slowed everything, a development that is causing panic among them.
Another farmer, Winiko Tsoka, said his name was not registering in the system but it was on the chief’s and extension workers’ list.
“My name was on the chief’s list but since yesterday I have been here; the system is apparently rejecting my name. But my worry is I was on the chief’s list and I cross checked with the extension workers’ list I was told my name is on the list but here at the depot the system is not recognising my name. This is worrisome and now I do not know if I will be helped.
“However, I know for sure that if my name is appearing on the chief’s list then I am definitely supposed to access the affordable inputs here. I am not the only one who has faced such a problem and it is my hope that it will be rectified,” he said.
Senior Group Mtenje from Blantyre District said most of the problems his subjects are facing are to do with availability of the materials.
“We have a lot of problems and most of them are weighing down on people living in rural areas. Now, the problem is fertiliser is not available in some locations and people have to travel all the way from their respective villages to town and this is disadvantaging the elderly and those that struggle financially.
“Government assured us that centres will be placed closer to rural areas but this is not what we have seen and most farmers are complaining. They are having to travel all the way to town and be faced with network challenges, which essentially is no work done,” he said.
And up North, one of the farmers, Alick Khowoya, said it was his second day to queue to buy fertilizer at Ekwendeni in Mzimba District.
“it is our plea to the government to work on the network problems. Once the network is down, we stay long time before buying. For instance, this is my second day to come here but then you look at the elderly who come and go without buying. The other suggestion could be increasing the number of service points right in the areas so that congestion is reduced,” he said.
64-year old Elida Msowoya emphasized that if the selling points were increased, both network hitches and congestion could be dealt with easily.
Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Gracian Lungu said as government, they have been working tirelessly by undertaking some troubleshootings so as to get to the bottom of the network challenge.
“In some days, the network behaves very well and in some days or hours, we do experience some challenges and currently we have worked on a number of solutions and this is why on Friday we didn’t experience lots of network challenges in most parts of this country. Our sales rate was so good as we made over 100,000 redemptions,” he said.
He said currently, they have made over 2 million redemptions for both seed and fertilizers, having a shared percentage of 18% and 17 % respectively as of 12 noon yesterday.
“Some suppliers are still yet to roll out their sales as they continue claiming that their consignments are on the way from the port in Mozambique and this is really making some farmers travel long distances to places where inputs are found but as a ministry, we have also directed that in all areas where we identified selling points but there is no consignment, the AIP coordinating team in liason with district Agriculture officials should identify some suppliers who have supplies to open up their markets there and even go for mobile vending,” Lungu added.
Government is to spend about K158.3 billion under the AIP which seeks to provide cheap fertilizer and cereals to about 4.2 million farming households across the country.
Under the programme, each smallholder farmer is entitled to access a 50 Kilogramme (kg) bag of NPK; a 50 Kg bag of Urea; either 5kg of maize seed or 7 kg of sorghum or 7kg of rice seed, depending on the farmer’s preference.
Under AIP, each farmer would have to pay K4,495 for each 50 kg bag of fertiliser and K2,000 for each pack of cereal seed of choice among maize, sorghum and rice.