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‘K124 billion AIP request doesn’t make sense’

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Sosten Gwengwe

“Soon we will be closing the AIP season, so what will the money be used for? The government should come out clearly as to what it will use the money for.” —Tamani Nkhono Mvula

By Deogratias Mmana:

Minister of Finance Sosten Gwengwe says Treasury does not have on its table a request from the Ministry of Agriculture for an additional $121 million (about K124 billion) for completion of activities for this season’s Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP).

This would more than double the budget for this season’s AIP as government allocated K109 billion for the programme in the 2022-23 national budget.

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And an agriculture expert has since said the ministry’s request does not make sense.

On Tuesday, Director of Finance in the Ministry of Agriculture, Teresa Mkandawire, told the Budget and Finance Committee of Parliament that the ministry needed $121 million to ensure that all the 2.5 million targeted beneficiaries of this season’s AIP get the subsidised inputs.

Mkandawire told the committee that the K109 billion that was initially allocated to AIP is not enough.

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She even said the ministry has engaged Treasury on the way forward.

“The ministry has exhausted the budget for fertiliser which was pegged at K97.5 billion and it has also used K3.3 billion of the K4.4 billion meant for logistics,” Mkandawire said.

At the meeting with the Budget and Finance Committee, Ministry of Agriculture Principal Secretary Dickxie Kampani said price changes in commodities have heavily affected the programme.

He feared that the 2.5 million target for this year might not be met.

Kampani said so far, only 55 percent of AIP fertiliser has been redeemed. He said as of January 17, 2023 a total of 2.7 million bags (about 137,000) metric tonnes were redeemed against the target of 247,384 metric tonnes.

In an interview yesterday on the position of the Treasury on the request, Gwengwe said that his ministry has not received such a request.

“[Ministry of] Agriculture has not officially communicated these figures to us. We will consider them after official request,” he said.

But even then, the request, if there is any at all, does not make sense, according to agriculture expert Tamani Nkhono Mvula, considering that the rainy season is coming towards the end now and the AIP season is closing on January 31, as announced by Minister of Agriculture Sam Kawale last week in Mzimba.

“I do not think it will be fair for the ministry to be making such kind of request. The figure sounds very unrealistic,” Mvula said.

He added: “Soon we will be closing the AIP season, so what will the money be used for? The government should come out clearly as to what it will use the money for.”

He said even if there would be need for money for AIP logistics, the amount is still too high for that exercise.

“The timing of the request for the resources is not on,” he said.

Kawale did not respond to our questionnaire in which we wanted him to justify the request against the timing for the AIP for this season.

This year’s AIP is rocked by several challenges.

Last year, government admitted that it had been conned of K750 million which it gave to a UK-based contractor to supply fertiliser for the programme.

The supplier, Barkaat Foods Limited, terminated the contract after pocketing the money, saying they had lost their supply line with Yara UK, world renowned fertiliser producer.

Government’s admission came after a rumour circulated for months on social media that it had lost K30 billion in a dubious fertiliser deal for the programme.

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