The government is keeping a tight lid on the number of people that will benefit from the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) in the 2022-23 growing season.
The development comes in the wake of the programme’s reduced budget from K142 billion in the 2021-22 financial year to K109 billion in the 2022- 23 fiscal year, which is likely to have an impact on the number of beneficiaries.
The Ministry of Agriculture is also not explaining how much farmers will be contributing to purchase a 50 kilogramme (kg) bag of fertiliser, now that fertiliser prices have gone up.
Agriculture Ministry spokesperson Gracian Lungu said the ministry would not be commenting on anything to do with AIP until a reform paper that has been drafted on the programme is adopted.
“The ministry developed an AIP reform paper and once this is adopted, we will tell the public about how we are to approach this year’s programme. For now, [we are making] no comment on AIP,” he said.
Last month, Agriculture Minister Lobin Lowe said at a public rally in Thyolo District that the government would use farmers’ cooperatives in implementing the AIP in the 2022-23 season to address some of the challenges the programme has been facing.
A recent report by the Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency indicated that 388 complaints related to AIP implementation were registered through the organisation’s toll-free line.
The organisation’s executive director Willie Kambwandira said the majority of the complaints came from Mulanje, Thyolo, Machinga, Dowa, Mzimba, Lilongwe, Nkhata Bay, Ntchisi and Mchinji districts.
Commenting on the matter, agriculture expert Tamani Nkhono Mvula said the government should have a clear framework and make public the expected changes to the programme in the spirit of promoting transparency and accountability.
Nkhono Mvula said, with fertiliser prices going up after the passing of the 2022-23 National Budget, the government should have realistic projections on the number of beneficiaries and the contributions each farmer will have to make to buy subsidised inputs.
“The budget was formulated before the war in Ukraine even started, before all the global economic trends manifested and that, obviously, has an impact on the programme now,” he said.
During the 2021-22 growing season, the Ministry of Agriculture reduced the number of beneficiaries from 3.7 million to 2.7 million, a decision which President Lazarus Chakwera reversed following a public outcry.