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Hitting The Nail

Hitting the nail

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The billions of kwacha that Parliament has been appropriating for the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) since 2005 are enough to have successfully reduced hunger and offset vulnerable households’ over-reliance on government support.

In fact, the programme was essentially designed to deal with weather shocks which had adversely affected production and resulted in prolonged food shortages and high input prices.

At that time, as is always the case, smallholder farmers were the worst hit since they could not easily access soft farm input loans.

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While during the first phases of the programme food security improved, what we have been seeing in recent years is the perennial plight of the same targeted poor households.

And no significant reform has been done on the programme despite several calls that, in its current format, it cannot address food shortages which are now exacerbated by the impacts of climate change.

Suggestions such as universal subsidy have been constantly rejected by authorities even though it is clear that Fisp is failing to address food insecurity.

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So, the very same people who get the subsidised farm inputs are the ones who recurrently go food insecure and need aid from the government.

But we all know that Fisp is a very political programme and, when it comes to politics, authorities will do everything possible to endear themselves to voters.

All voices of reason on Fisp reforms have been rejected because those that actually benefit from it want vulnerable households to be at their mercy whenever it suits them.

Of course, Fisp also seems a sure way of systematically stealing public funds through dubious awards of contracts and inflated operational costs.

Experts state that great costs would be cut if a universal programme was put in place. Operational costs would be minimised. There would not be any fuss on suppliers opting for particular areas while neglecting others because everything would be driven by business demand.

This is not to say the arrangement would be flawless.

Every year, the government launches Fisp, authorities say they expect a bumper harvest. The results are often worse cases of food security.

Now, some people who were obviously targeted by Fisp are hungry and are looking up to the government and its partners to come to their rescue.

They might have accessed the farm inputs but failed to fully utilise them because of other factors such as labour constraints and lack of supplementary resources.

There is a lot of politics in agriculture and food security. Maize is the biggest victim which is tossed around by anyone who believes they can use it to gain some political mileage.

Smallholder farmers complain year, in year out that they fail to sell their farm produce, particularly maize, to the government because Admarc depots open very late in their locations.

As a result, they are at the mercy of vendors who will offer ridiculous prices and take their grain away. The farmers are left with little or nothing to show for their toil and end up being severely hit by hunger.

Admarc would offer better prices apart from acting as system of storage.

Now, the people who sold the little they had to vendors, because they needed other materials in their homes, are in need of government support.

And authorities, led by Vice- President Everton Chimulirenji, will be very excited to visit the hungry communities with their food aid, pose with them for photos and pat themselves on their backs for a job well done.

It satiates their political egos and they cannot think of when that would no longer be the case—when everyone has enough food and does not need politics-linked handouts to survive.

You would clearly see that authorities want the country to always have hungry people; people who, on their own, will not survive.

In reality, there is no goodwill in the handouts. They are archetypal of an establishment that believes its relevance and popularity can be determined by how much they “reach out to the poor”.

And now with increasing climate change-related shocks, it is clear the poorest of the poor have less and less means of increasing their crop productivity even if they get the subsidised farm inputs.

And next year, during a time like this, they will most likely be in need of food support again, repeating a ravaging cycle that those with the power are not willing to break.

The government will be announcing again that several Malawians face hunger and will be calling for partners to come in to help.

Then it will also rush into the budget, withdraw billions of kwacha to procure food supplies for these people. And these people will be grateful to “a caring government” that, in fact, is happy to recreate their suffering.

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