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The wasted K40 billion Fisp money

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President Peter Mutharika’s declaration of a state of National Disaster on Tuesday due to what he called prolonged dry spells during the 2015/2016 season was received with mixed reactions.

To some of us who are always looking at where the money is, we immediately thought about the K40 billion tax payers’ money which, in June last year, members of Parliament collectively and unanimously agreed to channel it towards the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp).

Simply put, the declaration on Tuesday, was also to let us know that the K40 billion, which we toiled to contribute, through the taxes we pay – when we buy sugar, bread, cooking oil, and for using public infrastructure like roads, public toilets, public hospitals and other facilities – has gone down the drain.

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Mathematically, to those that are privileged to earn a modest basic monthly salary of over K500,000, their Pay-As-You-Earn (Paye) is over K200,000 per month.

I know it will incite more pain in your veins when I calculate for you that during the 2015/2016 agriculture season, you gave the government over K2.4 million within a period of 12 months, but now you are being told that the erratic rains have socked and washed away your contribution towards the subsidised fertiliser.

It is not easy to make such a declaration as a Head of State, and President Mutharika has been very sincere. It is like a father, the head of the family, humbling himself by going outside his house, to the neighbours and in the streets, shouting: “My wife and kids will not have food; they will starve this year because our maize field has been washed away by heavy rains. Please help us!” Yet your neighbours experienced the same catastrophe.

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These neighbours will not just offer humanitarian assistance without asking so many questions regarding your quality of fatherhood, and different programmes in your family will be exposed to comprehensive scrutiny.

As a nation, we ought to have reviewed most of our agriculture programmes long time ago. Malawi must prioritise and invest more in agriculture infrastructure development like rain harvest initiatives and the most touted irrigation farming, and that has to happen now, than later.

It is absurd that in the 21st century, Malawi is still relying on rain-fed agriculture amid numerous screams from around the world of the biting reality of global warming due to climate change caused by so many internal and external factors.

If our esteemed members of Parliament from both sides – government and the opposition – had resonated well during the last budget sessions, they would have ultimately reviewed the Fisp, and diverted the K40 billion tax payers’ money to advance agriculture technology, water harvest and irrigation farming.

That would have saved our president from the embarrassment of bearing the shame of declaring Malawi, a hunger stricken nation yet the country’s largest surface area is mostly covered by water.

Indeed Fisp is a brain child of the late former President Bingu wa Mutharika who is now being praised as a visionary and development conscious leader. I do not have any intentions to take away such credits from him, and I vehemently settle for the description of the late President in last week’s Brian Ligomeka’s The Twister column in this very Sunday Times that was titled ‘Ploys of Economic Hitmen’.

However, I strongly believe there was no exit strategy for the Fisp. Sadly, it is in the blood of Malawians to glorify mediocrity, and we all failed to read between the lines, that Fisp programme is more of a political tool than a means to increasing agriculture production.

If the programme was developed in purely good faith, it should have had benchmarks of graduating beneficiaries. We would not be having the same names on the beneficiaries’ list over and over again, in every growing season.

What Malawi is dying to have, is a Fisp programme that would systematically graduate beneficiaries, thereby reducing both the annual demanded fertiliser quantity and the number of deserving beneficiaries.

If it was well thought through during the inception of the programme, by today, we would have graduated more poor farmers from the Fisp dependence to large scale farmers, and drastically reduce the sums of tax payers’ money that go towards the initiative every financial year.

It is illogical for Malawi, which brags about housing more professors and intellectuals, to be proud of subsidising the very same people with fertiliser and seeds and yet there is no record or sign of improvement or development in the farmers, and subsequently a trickledown effect on the overall economy.

I know that the subject I have started can wake Bingu up from the confines of the magnificent Ndata Mausoleum and push me to the daggers of a heated debate. No! Continue resting in eternal peace, Professor, and thank you for your book, ‘The African Dream’.

Besides your excellent programmes – that are touted in ‘The African Dream’ – which at one time made Malawi a food basket, the truth of the matter is that the greatest contributing factor during that period was the remarkable rainfall pattern that God had blessed Malawi with, something beyond the control of human beings.

The bottom line is that Malawi should revisit the structure of the Fisp programme and divert the exorbitant funds towards water harvest, agriculture technology and irrigation farming.

My radical personal view, which is subject to debate, is that if Malawi is to indeed be a proud agro-based economy, the Fisp programme should target few commercial farmers – essentially not poor as is the case now – but who can demonstrate capacity to feed the entire nation and allow government to export the surplus.

These commercial farmers, would utilise the emerging agriculture technologies, and have the ability to stock functioning advanced agri-equipment that can carry out initiatives of water harvest and irrigation farming.

Government may task these selected high powered commercial farmers through properly regulated contracts with targets in metric tonnages of production per year and an attached value on different strategic crops.

The contracts can clearly indicate that the whole production belongs to the Malawi Government – of course, at a cost – and would be in the custody of the Strategic Grain Reserves after harvest. These large scale commercial farmers can further be tasked with the agreed figures that they must contribute towards the country’s employment rate.

In return, these agriculture companies may be incentivised with negotiated corporate taxes, subsidised duty (taxes) on imported agriculture equipment, free research programmes through the University of Malawi on different crops and seeds, including free weather forecast equipment or assistance from the relevant government department.

What about the poor subsistence farmers? I know a political government will never withdraw Fisp from these people who are in majority because that is where the votes are. But these few commercial farmers would have already been tasked to feed the very poor at as low as K2,000 per 50 kilogramme bag.

We are equally concerned that Mutharika has just declared that the K40 billion, which you and me contributed for these poor farmers has been wasted by El Nino induced dry spells, which is clearly not the fault of the DPP-led government.

Where are the indications that during the next growing season Malawi is going to experience good rainfall pattern, and that the K40 Billion plus tax payers’ money would not be wasted? “Madness is doing the very same thing over and over again, hoping for a different result”.

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