As Andre Rico Harare writes, over 157,436 small scale farmers in the border district are expected to benefit from the newly introduced Affordable Input Program (AIP).

In the 2018/2019 season, about 40,500 farmers benefited from the farm input subsidy program, whilst in the 2019/2020 season, about 33,000 small scale farmers were reached out in Mchinji district.

However for the first time, over 157,436 small scale farmers in the border district are expected to benefit from the newly introduced Affordable Input Program (AIP).

The figure clearly shows that the number of beneficiaries has been increased by 124,436. 

According to a 2018 Malawi Population and housing Census report, Mchinji district has a population of 602,305 people where 85 percent are farmers.

Just few months being ushered into power, the Tonse Alliance government led by Dr. Lazarus Mc Cathy Chakwera abolished the Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP) that was introduced in 2005 by the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s administration. President Chakwera renamed the initiative to Affordable Input Program (AIP).

This year, the program is targeting about 4.2 million small scale farmers across the country and that each farmer is expected to purchase two 50 kg bags of fertilizer at a price of K4, 495 and 7kgs of maize, rice or sorghum seed at a price of K2,000.

Source: Mchinji District Agriculture Office

Speaking when launching the program in Zomba, President Chakwera said the program has been launched to help smallholder farmers with affordable farm input to deal with persistent hunger the country faces every year.

Dr. Chakwera said his administration has decided to introduce the new program in order to allow more small scale farmers benefit from the same nationwide.

Mudziwathu Community Radio Station did random interviews with smallholder farmers in the border district to express their views towards the program. The farmers said they are optimistic that the program will help them to harvest bumper yields.

Enita Nyika, a youthful smallholder farmer from Mpazi Village, senior chief Mkanda said the program looks promising and if handled properly, it will help improve food security at national level.

“Am supporting this initiative because it accommodates a lot of farmers and we will use National Identity Cards to buy the input and not coupons as we used to do,” she said.

Nyika further expressed happiness on revelation that a total number of 37,209 farmers in his area will benefit from the program unlike in the past where only 6,645 farmers benefited.

Concurring with Enita, Group village Chamferamthengo from Traditional Authority Zulu in the district said the last program created enermity between chiefs and community members. He said last year, his area got 10 coupons and it was hard for him to share the same to his subjects and as such he developed an idea of allowing 5 to 10 households sharing one bag of fertilizer.

Barely few months, farmers start buying the farm input at a price of MK 4,495, the minister of Agriculture honorable Robin Lowe announced that the government has noted that there some ghost beneficiaries in the system and the number of beneficiaries reduced to 3.6 Million.

Therefore, what farmers were expecting from the program turned totally different as some farmers are spending three or four days to buy fertilizer due to slowness of network used to scan the national Identity card.

Million Jere from Mtondera village Traditional Authority Nyoka, said “though the National Identity Card was used in this new system, vendors are the ones buying more bags of fertilizer while smallholder farmers are sleeping at the selling points waiting to buy the fertilizer’

In her response, Deputy minister of Agriculture Agnes Mkusankhoma confirmed to Mudziwathu that her ministry is aware that farmers are facing challenges to buy fertilizer but soon the ministry will increase number of selling points.

“We know that farmers are spending one to two nights to buy the fertilizer due to network problems, this is happening because we were doing the processes against the time as you know we took the government on 23rd July this year so we were working under pressure making sure that the exercise of selling the fertilizer to farmers should start before the rain season but we are working on that and every farmer will buy the farm input”

The Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee report of 2020 says over 2.6 Million Malawians will be affected by hunger between October 2020 and March 2021.

The report further shows that out of 2.6 million people affected by hunger, 2 million people are from rural areas whilst 600,000 are living in urban areas.

Again, the SADC synthesis report on food security and nutrition done on 9th July, 2020 indicates that an estimated number of 44.8 million people from 13 SADC Member States countries are food in secured this year compared to 2019, food insecurity increased by almost 10% in 2020.

However, in Malawi, the report reveals that 2.7 million people are food insecure, in which 1,900,000 people are from rural areas whilst 800,000 are from urban areas.

Source: Sadc Synthesis Food Security and Nutrition Report 2020

According to Dr. Chakwera, the main reason of introducing AIP was to enhance food security in the country.

Faison Mbalame aged 65 a smallholder farmer from senior chief Mlonyeni said previously farmers needed to sacrifice their time if they were to buy a bag of fertilizer under FISP as most agro dealers could not have adequate fertilizers and seeds.

He further said that though few things changed but the rest remains the same from the previous Farm Input Subsidy Program, although the government said this time they will use biometric system but vendors still are buying large quantity of fertilizer and sale it at a higher price.

Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Robin Lowe recently told the public that the new initiative will use the biometric system that will allow beneficiaries produce National Identity Cards when purchasing farm inputs.

Lowe further projected that a farmer is able to harvest 32 bags of maize if they use two bags of fertilizer in an acre.