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Government cautioned on farmer clubs

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Sameer Suleman

Agriculture experts have asked the government to tread carefully on the plan to channel all agricultural services, including implementation of the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP), through farmers’ clubs.

The Ministry of Agriculture announced the new policy direction following a recommendation by President Lazarus Chakwera throughout his nationwide crop inspection tours.

Chakwera said farmers who worked in groups in the 2021- 22 farming season were better prepared to access and use farm inputs and were less venerable to exploitation by vendors.

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The ministry’s spokesperson Gracian Lungu said the new policy direction is in force with immediate effect.

“You heard, in his [Chakwera’s] speeches throughout the crop inspection tours, that we have to take this route. So, we are starting immediately across the country,” he said

But agriculture expert Tamani Nkhono Mvula, while saying farmers’ clubs were one of the best ways of reaching out to farmers with services, said there was a lot of work to be done to make farmers’ clubs successful.

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“Over 60 percent of farmers in the country do not belong to any form of association and, yet, we are starting this arrangement full throttle this year. I am not sure what mechanism government has put in place to ensure that the groups have been formed and trained. It’s not just a matter of farmers coming together to start getting the farm inputs,” he said.

Mvula also doubted the effectiveness of farmers’ clubs in AIP implementation considering that the programme is not a loan facility where farmers would be expected to pay back loans.

“At the end of the day, AIP involves a single person going and buying inputs for their own use. They are not required to repay the contribution which government makes. As such, what will be the role of clubs in AIP?” he queried.

Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture Chairperson Sameer Suleman said in an earlier interview that farmers’ clubs must be formed with due diligence if they were to achieve the intended purpose.

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