Farmers reap more, traders learn lessons
Kondwani Nkhoma was bubbling with joy and excitement as he inspected his maize field one Wednesday afternoon in Kalenga Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Wimbe, in Kasungu.
For the past seven years or so, he has not been able to yield enough to take his family from one harvesting season to the other and, eventually, hunger had become a resident guest of his family.
But Nkhoma is set to beat the record this year, thanks to the Affordable Input Programme (AIP) and the good rains the country has received, so far.
The 42-year-old father of four said he expects to realise thrice the amount of maize his family will need to have food from this year’s harvesting season to June 2022.
“I must confess that I have never had such an imposing crop in my field for some years. I am grateful to the government for the affordable inputs and I also thank God for giving us good rains this year,” he said.
Some critics described AIP as a costly undertaking while admitting the programme could improve the country’s food situation if properly implemented.
Initially, the programme was designed to cover all smallholder farming households in the country estimated at 4.2 million and was aimed at increasing access to quality and improved farm inputs such as fertilisers and maize seed.
However, Minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe told Parliament on February 20 2021, when the programme closed, that 3.5 million households had benefitted from the programme whose major objective is to reduce poverty and ensure food security at household and national levels.
Agriculture experts such as Tamani Nkhono-Mvula and National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (Nasfam) tipped the government on what it needed to do to maximise benefits from the programme.
They said key measures that could help increase returns from the programme include maximising efficiency of input use and minimising input leakages.
Nkhono Mvula says, for instance, that one way to maximise efficiency of input use is to ensure that farmers use fertiliser that has the required nutrients in the right proportions and that they plant quality seeds.
A recent study highlighted the inability of most farmers and agro-dealers to identify fake seed, only noticing it upon realising low germination rates.
For instance, in Chipala Extension Planning Area (EPA) in Kasungu and Lemwe EPA in Lilongwe, the beneficiaries reported that the fertilisers they bought from some suppliers had damaged their crops.
Idah Tifere of Nathenje Trading Centre in T/A Chadza, Lilongwe, said, after noticing the damage to her maize crops, she reported the matter to extension workers who later took up the matter with the supplier.
“But there is no feedback, so far,” Tifere said.
Group Village Head Nathenje of T/A Chadza in Lilongwe said, apart from the network glitches, AIP had proven to be an effective pathway for addressing extreme hunger and poverty among poor households in Malawi.
Nathenje said he is even more excited that the programme has restored the dignity and respect of traditional leaders, who were the constant targets of insults from subjects whose names did not appear on the list of Farm Input Subsidy Programme beneficiaries.
“However, the challenge we noted was that some suppliers delivered the inputs late. We appeal to the government and the suppliers to address this problem so that we should have a smooth programme next year,” the chief said.
Nasfam, in partnership with Sealand Investments Limited, was allocated 8,000 metric tonnes of fertilisers to supply in Kasungu, Lilongwe, Mchinji and Salima and some districts in the Northern Region.
Nasfam Head of Operations Emmy Sohal said, being a farmer-based association, they do realise the importance of supplying quality inputs and delivering them on time to help the government to achieve its goals.
He said this is why the association ensured there is constant supply of the inputs in its designated depots in 15 EPAs.
“Our desire was that in all the 15 EPAs we were sub-contracted to service in Mchinji, Kasungu, Salima and Lilongwe, there should be constant supply of the inputs and I am happy that we managed to achieve it,” Sohal added.
He said the first year of AIP implementation has taught them many lessons, including the need to be efficient and effective in delivery of the inputs to the allocated areas.
Nkhoma and Liness Khumalo, another AIP beneficiary from Kalenga Village T/A Wimbe, in Kasungu, are some of the farmers that redeemed their inputs at Nasfam depot at Kalenga Trading Centre.
They confessed that they had not experienced any damage to their crops.
“Apart from coming late on the market, they tried to have a constant supply of fertilisers in stock. We didn’t sleep at their depots before accessing the fertilisers,” Khumalo said.
Nkhoma suspected that the suppliers that sold them ‘bad’ fertilisers are the disgruntled ones who did not support the programme because it does not provide room for the manipulation of names of beneficiaries and corruption.
“Probably, it is important that, in future, the government should consider giving contracts to only those who have delivered to the satisfaction of the beneficiaries,” he asserted.