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From Fisp beneficiary to commercial farmer

Some people are resistant to change but others are flexible in that, when an opportunity comes, they shake off their poverty.

Towera Kumwenda is one such person as she has managed to seize the opportunity brought by the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) to graduate into a self-sustaining commercial farmer.

This is unlike some people, who are perennial beneficiaries and have no clue on how to graduate from their dependency on the programme.

Kumwenda, a mother of four from Chikayanga Village, Senior Chief Mwankhunikira, in Rumphi District is, perhaps, an example such clueless beneficiaries can emulate.

She never let Fisp windfall slip through her fingers or fly past without making full use of it.

With mere two bags of fertiliser, her life has changed from a subsistence to a model crop and livestock farmer in the area.

Subsistence farming is what kept her family going since she got married in 1985. The family could only manage to grow and realise just enough for home consumption.

“Life took a turn for the worse when my husband died in 2002. I struggled single-handedly to raise money for domestic needs and school fees for my children.

“To raise money to buy a single bag of chemical fertiliser was a struggle,” she says.

However, mother luck smiled on her in the 2005/06 growing season when the government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, introduced Fisp.

The programme was aimed at enabling small-scale smallholder farmers to buy chemical fertiliser and other inputs at a subsidised price.

Kumwenda was given two bags of fertiliser which, she says, have turned her social status from a struggling widow to a fully-fledged successful farmer and business lady.

“I sat down with my children and we decided to grow tobacco on one acre where we produced 10 bales.

Unfortunately, during that year, prices at the auction floors were very low that we managed to earn K200,000 only,” she recalls.

Nonetheless, the family soldiered on. They decided to invest the K200,000 in something

that would keep the family going and sustain its crop production.

“Having considered several options, we decided to plough back some of the money into farming and we used the remainder to open a small grocery shop,” she explains.

The following growing season, the family hired two tenants to concentrate on tobacco farming while the family, collectively, was in full swing growing food crops.

The gamble paid off as K1 million was realised from the sale of 22 bales of tobacco, which was used to buy a cart and a cow.

“Our initial plan was to buy a cow and resale it for a profit but, on second thought, we kept it. We then decided to buy a cart which other farmers hire,” she says.

Kumwenda says the money was used for recapitalising the grocery shop and extend tobacco and food-crop farming.

Again, things went well as earnings from tobacco alone were around K3 million. The family now boasts of a car, a van and 20 head of cattle.

“I have achieved a lot. I’m also building a decent self-contained house,” she says.

In the wake of dry spells that have come with climate change in recent years, Kumwenda adopted modern farming techniques that focus on climate-smart agriculture.

Climate-smart agriculture involves use of new farming techniques for retaining and conserving soil fertility and water harvesting, among others.

“The world has changed. We no longer receive normal rains; hence the adoption of the new techniques.

“I know how to make organic manure and my crop fields do not dry up in times of dry spell. I use organic manure which keeps moisture in the soil, thereby preventing crops from wilting,” she says.

Now, 12 years after Fisp was introduced, Kumwenda has become a model farmer in her neighbourhood. Every day, people flock to her house to learn a thing or two from her.

Her neighbours say Kumwenda’s success results from hard work.

“She started humbly. She is not only a hard worker but also a daring and resourceful person.

“Every time extension workers from government or non-governmental organisations come to introduce new farming techniques, she willingly adopts.

“We are learning a lot from her especially on issues of livestock and modern crop farming practices like using organic manure and conservation agriculture,” says Glory Ng’oma from Mkombezi.

The government introduced Fisp to increase smallholder farmers’ access to and use of improved agricultural inputs to enhance food self-sufficiency and income of resource-poor farmers.

Rumphi District Agriculture Development Officer (Dado), Lumbani Msiska, is impressed with the strides Kumwenda has made to attain the status quo.

He points out that government introduced Fisp programme so that subsistence farmers should graduate to another level.

“Kumwenda is the type of farmers we want. She realised the importance of the initiative which is bailing out subsistence farmers who cannot afford to buy chemical fertilisers,” Msiska says.

The Dado attributes Kumwenda’s success to her zeal to adopt all latest farming technologies the agriculture department introduced to her and other farmers.

“For instance, she is able to make Mbeya manure which has assisted her to realise bumper harvests even in times of drought,” he says.

Msiska says other farmers have not turned around their situation despite being Fisp recipients for years solely because of attitude towards the initiative.

“You know agricultural extension is like adult learning. You have two types of people: early adopters and late adopters.

“Early adopters like Kumwenda take up new ideas instantly and practise them while late adopters are those who always wait for other people’s results to confirm that the new concept is working,” Msiska says.

But Senior Chief Mwankhunikira observes that some beneficiaries fail to graduate to another level because they sale coupons for buying subsidised farm inputs.

“My understanding of Fisp programme is that it is a starter pack to empower those who cannot afford to buy fertiliser on their own at normal market price.

“But my concern is that we have been having the very same beneficiaries every year. I tend to wonder, sometimes, as to when these people will graduate to self-sustenance,” he says.

Ironically, some of the beneficiaries who sell off Fisp coupons suffer perpetual hunger every growing season.

To this effect, Mwankhunikira proposes that, at the beginning of every growing season, village heads should report to traditional authorities on how beneficiaries performed with the subsidised inputs.

“It is very irritating to see Fisp beneficiaries becoming the first to complain about hunger every year.

“We must be following up on these beneficiaries for this programme to work well,” he says.

Mwankhunikira notes that the number of people who need to benefit from the programme increases every year and it is unfair to be supporting the very same people who even abuse the initiative.

In the last growing season, close to 900,000 farming households countrywide benefited from Fisp with Rumphi contributing 15,400 households.

Meanwhile, the programme has been allocated K41.5 billion in the 2018-2019 national budget which will reach out to one million households with subsidised fertiliser and seeds.

“This is an increase from the 2017/18 revised figure of K33.2 billion,” reads the budget statement delivered in the National Assembly on May 18 by Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe.

As Fisp implementation continues, one can only hope that as many beneficiaries as possible will follow Kumwenda’s footsteps to achieve food security and realise economic gains at both household and national levels. – Mana

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