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Hiccups hit farm inputs programme

DESPERATE FOR THE INPUTS— Farmers captured at Limbe Market in Blantyre


Smallholder farmers— who are expected to buy affordable farm inputs under the Affordable Input Programme (AIP)—are enduring long queues in the scotching sun to access the inputs, a problem attributed to telecommunications’ network challenges.

Snap checks at farm inputs selling points across the country indicated that farmers are queuing for long hours and, in some cases, days on end to access the inputs.

“I came here at around 3am but some came as early as 1am. We are yet to be served and when we ask they say there is a problem with network. How long are we going to endure sweltering heat before we are served?

“There are huge quantities of fertiliser and seeds in warehouses but the problem is [telecommunications] network. I was here yesterday and I am here today with no hope of being served,” said Laston Kampunga, one of the farmers we found at Limbe Market in Blantyre.

Another farmer, Thyolo-based Effet Mpaso, shared Kampunga’s frustrations with network problems.

“At some point, I feel like the service providers are deliberately creating network jams so that we bribe them into selling us the inputs,” he said.

Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Grecian Lungu said this was due to congestion in the system.

“The problem is that we rolled out the project across the country at once and everyone wants to buy the inputs. This has brought congestion to the system of our service provider.

“We are working with the service provider, who is increasing the bandwidth of the system. Come this week, network [failure] should not be a problem anymore,” he said.

Upon arrival at the markets, the smallholder farmer’s National Identity Card is swiped into a machine to verify details on the card before the farmer proceeds to buy the inputs.

Nsanje District Council spokesperson Martin Chiwanda said, although most markets had inputs, network tailbacks remained a challenge.

“We have the inputs even in markets at Makhanga, which is a hard-to-reach area. The problem, however, is network, especially as days go by,” he said.

In Neno and Thyolo districts, network problems are making farmers’ lives unbearable, with some farmers going to markets for between two and three days before being assisted.

In Blantyre, we discovered that, on top of experiencing network failures, some markets, especially in Blantyre rural, did not have the inputs yet.

Just like in Blantyre rural, Mulanje farmers have persistent network but no farm inputs in warehouses.

An officer there confided in The Daily Times that the main problem in the district was supply of the farm inputs themselves.

“For us, the question is not markets or network problem but the inputs themselves. Officially, we started on Wednesday because we faced delays in producing the register of farming households to benefit from the programme. The inputs started trickling in this [last] week and we hope that the district will be fully covered in the coming week,” the officer said.

Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture Chairperson Sameer Suleman said the committee was aware of challenges associated with the programme countrywide.

He said committee members would this week meet with stakeholders to try and iron out problems.

“These network challenges are happening across Malawi. The problem is that this system was rolled out on a national scale without being piloted anywhere. We should have just gone ahead with the coupon system with just a little tightening here and there— with few selected districts using this system as a pilot phase.

“Again, we, as a committee, need to be involved more. We are not being involved enough and it is becoming difficult for us to contribute significantly to the programme. Next week [this week], we are meeting with stakeholders to see how best we can help; otherwise, the system is not working as expected and, at the rate we are going, it will flop,” Suleman said.

AIP has replaced the Farm Input Subsidy Programme and targets 4,279,100 farming households.

Under the programme, farmers are accessing two bags of fertiliser at K4,495 each and a pack of maize seeds at K2,000.

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