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Malawi government hints at redesigning Fisp

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Amid fears of prolonged dry spells in Malawi as well as declining living conditions across the country, government is considering changing the targeting criteria for the Farm Input Subsidy program (Fisp) with irrigation farmers as an alternative.

If implemented, this will be the first time government will revisit the targeting criteria for a programme that has in recent times been a subject to criticism from both the donor community and technocrats.

Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Allan Chiyembekeza said considering the effects of the dry spell in the Southern Region, redesigning the programme is a possibility.

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His sentiments come at a time when 110,420 hectares out of Blantyre Agricultural Development Division (ADD)’s available 394,207 hectares of arable land have been affected by the dry spell. Blantyre ADD comprises seven districts namely; Thyolo, Mulanje, Phalombe, Blantyre, Chiradzulu, Mwanza and Neno.

About 302,337 farming households from the ADD have also started experiencing the effects of the dry spell as their crops, especially maize, are wilting and according to officials, could completely dry before maturity if the rains do not come in the next five days.

Most smallholder farmers had already applied fertiliser which they obtained under the heavily subsidised Fisp to their fields, and there are fears this fertiliser has gone to waste.

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Asked if the development will push government towards reviewing its multi-billion kwacha programme, Chiyembekeza — who this week inspected crops in the affected areas—said redesigning the programme could be a possibility.

“I think we need to accept that there is need to redesign the programme so that emphasis should be redirected from rain fed agriculture to irrigation farming, but the cabinet has the full responsibility to make those adjustments and come up with the way forward on Fisp,” said Chiyembekeza.

Chiyembekeza also admitted that most people in the country are really facing a food crisis and advised people to change their eating habits.

“Looking at how most of our crops are faring in our fields, it is obvious that even if the rains come, they will be too weak to pick up again so I would like to advise that we need to preserve what we have, if we were eating thrice a day, maybe it is high time we started eating twice,” he said.

He also blamed the looming hunger on natural causes especially the erratic rains saying the only way to curb the challenge in the near future is to start investing in irrigation farming and crop diversification.

Chiyembekeza also emphasised on the need for those affected but yet to apply their Fisp fertiliser to hold on until next season and of course not to replant the grain but other drought tolerant crops such as cassava and sweet potatoes.

Meanwhile, District Agriculture Development Officer (DADO) for Phalombe, Osmund Chapotola has warned that 95 percent of the planted crops in the district could be destroyed if the rains fail to resume by end this month.

He also said crops in the district were also attacked by armyworms thereby increasing the food challenge the district is bound to face.

“The crop situation in this district is really bad as this year we have only managed to receive about 130.6 milimetres of rainfall in eight rainy days as compared to the same period last year which saw the district receiving over 600 milimetres of rainfall in 24 rainy days,” he said.

Currently, Admarc depots that have become major sources of the staple food for people are failing to meet the growing demand. But Admarc officials insist the country has enough food.

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