By Charles Mpaka
As pressure mounts for the government to exit the farm input subsidy programme, a development economist Dr Felix Lombe has added his weight to the calls.
Lombe told The Sunday Times that subsidies everywhere are political solutions. But Malawi’s programme, he said, is a difficult one.
“When a subsidy drains out the only remaining coins from your own revenue as a government, then you need to revisit the whole scheme and take a painful decision,” he said.
Lombe, who is also Chief Executive Officer for Africa Institute of Corporate Citizenship (AICC), said excessive interest and deep obsession with subsidies will only delay Malawi’s realisation of her dream of agriculture commercialization as envisioned in the MW2063.
He said the money which is being invested in fertiliser subsidies could have been put in components such as livestock and fisheries development, mechanisation, agro-processing, irrigation and extension services to meet that dream.
Spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture, Gracian Lungu, admitted the underfunding to components like extension services.
He said going forward, government will be engaging the NGO sector to help in areas “where we are still having challenges so that all departments under our ministry should tick as a whole”.
Government has previously implemented this policy of ‘subcontracting’ extension services and it admits in its reports that it has not brought the desirable results.
Lombe said NGO-led extension services are often inefficient and shallow.
“In fact, it only succeeds in overstretching and burdening the same public extension system. Many NGOs rely on the same government agents. Getting lured by allowances, these public agents end up abandoning their formal scope and everyday work,” he said.
Furthermore , observed Lombe, NGOs do not have full technical capacity in this respect, hence have imported in untested methods.
“That’s why today, there are too many untested technologies dumped on farmers by NGOs, leading to confusion and contradictions on the ground. Since NGOs have money, they ultimately succeed in confusing and contradicting what government would have loved to do,” he said.
He urged the government to take a bold decision to invest in extension services “without being bullied by IMF and World Bank on the size of public administration”.
Over the past 17 years, government has invested over K700 billion in fertiliser subsidy alone, crowding out spending to pillars critical to agriculture development in Malawi.