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Parliament lambasts ministry over Affordable Inputs Programme

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Sameer Suleman

The Agriculture Committee of Parliament Tuesday slammed the Ministry of Agriculture for what it described as giving false information to Malawians on this year’s Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) implementation.

Among other things, committee chairperson Sameer Suleman and fellow members questioned the move by the Ministry of Agriculture to go ahead and launch this year’s AIP when there is no fertiliser in the country.

Parliament aired out its views when Secretary for Agriculture Erica Maganga and other directors from the ministry appeared before the committee to update Parliament on this year’s AIP, which President Lazarus Chakwera launched in Chiradzulu District on Saturday.

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Among other things, Maganga told the committee that the ministry expected Smallholder Farmers Fertiliser Revolving Fund of Malawi (SFFRFM) to supply 127,000 metric tonnes (mt) of the soil-enriching substance, of which about 75,000mt is already in the country.

Maganga said, of the 127,000mt, which represents about 34 percent of this year’s AIP requirement, 100,000mt would be distributed by the Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation while the remaining 27,000mt would be distributed by SFFRFM.

She added that their assessment has shown that the country already has over 80 percent of the AIP total fertiliser requirement of 370,000mt.

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But Suleiman accused the ministry of telling lies on some issues regarding AIP.

Among other things, Suleman doubted the tonnage of fertilizer that is already in the country, saying site-visits by committee members to fertiliser firms indicated that the country had less fertiliser than projected.

He said it was surprising to note that the ministry went ahead to launch the programme without knowing where it would get the remaining 66 percent of fertiliser and, worse still, when contracts with suppliers had not been signed and when the list of beneficiaries had not been concluded.

“On the fertiliser that the government bought through SFFRFM, we, as a committee, feel that there is something fishy that went on regarding that fertiliser. Our questions are: Where did this fertiliser come from? Who supplied that fertiliser? Under what agreement? Which tenders were floated for this fertiliser?

“First, we were told it’s 150,000 metric tonnes. Today we are being told it is 127,000 metric tonnes. We need more information regarding this fertiliser and we, as a committee, are going to get to the bottom of this,” Suleman said.

He added that the committee felt that it was a lie for the ministry to tell Parliament that the country had about 87 percent of its total fertiliser requirement pegged around 620,000mt.

“There is a syndicate of three to four suppliers that have grown wings and have captured everyone in the system involved in the fertiliser chain. That’s our fear. We want to break this cartel and we will do it.

“We want to ask the Anti-Corruption Bureau to investigate the purchase of the 150,000 metric tonnes of fertiliser that did not follow the right procedure. What happened? We want to know,” Suleiman said.

The committee also took the ministry to task over a sharp cut in the subsidy of maize seed prices from K6,000 per 5kg packet to K3,355, which has resulted in peasant farmers requiring to cough an average of K8,000 to get a packet of certified hybrid maize seed.

Suleman said the development would result in many farmers failing to buy certified seed, thereby using recycled seeds which would greatly impact output.

A member of the committee, Benedicto Chambo, questioned the reasoning of the ministry in placing more emphasis on fertiliser in the AIP than seed, saying, even with plenty of fertiliser, the AIP would not yield the necessary outcome if farmers planted bad seeds.

But Maganga said the cut in the government contribution of seed subsidy was done in an attempt to contain the ballooned AIP programme.

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