By Imam Wali:
Some traditional leaders in the country have challenged the Ministry of Agriculture to speed up the distribution of farm inputs under the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP), arguing that late distribution will spell disaster as the majority of roads in rural areas are impassable during the wet season.
Senior Chief Chauma of Dedza District said late distribution of inputs puts beneficiaries in an awkward position, forcing them to spend more money on transportation than would be the case under normal circumstances.
“For your information, my subjects pay between K2,000 and K4,000 for a motorbike taxi [Kabaza] operator to transport one bag of 50-kilogramme (kg) fertiliser from point of sale to the village. This is always a blow to the head of my subjects because they can use the money used for transporting inputs for other productive purposes.
“As I am speaking, there is hunger in my area because cheap farm inputs were supplied late in the 2020-21 rain-fed agriculture season. Last season, most smallholder farmers in my area failed to plant with the first rains because seeds were supplied late,” he said.
Senior Chief Kameme of Chitipa District described poor road network as one of the biggest challenges in effectively implementing AIP.
“When inputs are supplied late, transporters fail to reach some destinations. As a result, farmers are forced to cover long distances to redeem their inputs. In our case here, it is impossible for one to use a vehicle to cover the 30-kilometre distance from Kameme to Chiwanga when it is raining, yet there are productive farmers in these areas,” he said.
Kameme urged the government to address the challenge of poor network.
Traditional Authority Nthache of Mwanza District concurred with Kamene.
“In our case, there was low crop productivity in my area because farm inputs were supplied late. The problem was compounded by dry spells.
“As at now, my area has one central point, Kanduka. There is a need to start supplying inputs to the central point before the rains start falling. We also ask the government to open additional centres in my area, especially at Chiwemba, Chimulango, Golowa and Mwanza Primary School, to ease mobility challenges that my subjects face,” he said.
He warned that, if the problem persisted this year, farmers would have no choice but be forced to plant local varieties.
However, at the recent launch of AIP in Chiradzulu District, Agriculture Minister Lobin Lowe said the country had over 87 percent of the total fertiliser that would be needed for programme implementation in the 2021-22 farming season, further indicating that the remainder was in transit.
Lowe said the ministry had improved the electronic system that is used, indicating that beneficiaries would use National Identify cards whenever they are ready to buy inputs. Further, to avoid network hitches that marred last season’s programme, the ministry had added GSM.
Beneficiaries of AIP will be entitled to one 50kg of Urea and one 50kg bag of NPK fertiliser each at K7,500 and the government will pay K3,365 per 5kg for maize seed purchased.
There is a further provision for livestock to farmers in Nsanje and Chikwawa districts, with each beneficiary getting two female goats each at 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 was 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 (Admarc) while the remaining 27,000mt would be distributed by SFFRFM.
She added that their assessment had shown that the country already has over 80 percent of the AIP total fertiliser requirement of 370,000 metric tonnes.
But Suleman accused the ministry of telling lies on some issues regarding AIP.
Among other things, Suleman doubted the tonnage of fertiliser 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.