AIP clouds get darker – The Times Group Malawi
The much-touted cooperatives arrangement is yet to start, fertiliser is nowhere to be seen and then government shuts down Admarc which it had tipped to play a crucial role in the programme – how this year’s AIP seems to be shaping up for real chaos
Amid uncertainty over fertiliser supply for this year’s Agriculture Input Programme (AIP), a crisis is forming in the distribution of the commodity should it be available at all.
This year, government opted to distribute the fertiliser to the beneficiaries through farmer cooperatives.
But there is chaos in this arrangement, we have learnt, as district officers are yet to be formally told what to do.
In May, the Ministry of Agriculture said it was mandatory for farmers to form agriculture cooperatives or farmer clubs for them to be reached with different projects, including AIP.
During his crop inspection tour early this year, President Lazarus Chakwera also emphasised that government would supply the fertilizer under the programme through cooperatives of beneficiary farmers.
But our findings on the ground show there is disarray in the arrangement.
We contacted Directors of Agriculture and Natural Resources, formerly known as District Agriculture Development Officers (Dados) from various parts of the country.
Almost all of the officers we spoke to said they are not sure as to what is supposed to happen to form these cooperatives and how the government intends to work with those farmers during this year’s AIP.
“We already have cooperatives in our areas but we are not sure if these are the ones that will be used because on this issue, there is the question of one being a beneficiary and not everyone in the existing cooperatives is a beneficiary of AIP; so, we are really not sure how this will go,” one official said.
The district officials claimed that while the top ministry officials and the President have been making public pronouncements about the arrangement, these district authorities have not been communicated to formally on how to go about it.
“The challenge is that in this uncertainty, we do not know what to do. We do have cooperatives of farmers, some growing cotton, others Irish potatoes and others sugarcane. Is it these ones that are being targeted with AIP?
“If there are to be new ones, how do we go about it? How many people? We are still waiting to be guided on what to do,” said another district officer.
We took the concerns to Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Gracian Lungu. He said the ministry needed more time to respond to this.
But chairperson for the Agriculture Committee of Parliament Sameer Suleman said the decision to deal with cooperatives was rushed in the first place.
He said there was need for research and proper mechanisms to guide how it would be implemented.
“If the government continues with the system the way it is now, that fertiliser will not go into the field; it will end up with vendors.
“Either they use the same old system and polish it or come up with something different but we do not have time now. I do not see this cooperatives system working,” he said.
Suleman further noted that if the government does not sort what he described as a mess that is happening, this year’s AIP will be disastrous.
“This year’s AIP does not look promising because while there seems to be a mess already with the cooperatives, where is the fertiliser? We do not know where the fertiliser will come from. As of now we only have 16,000 metric tonnes out of the required 400,000 metric tonnes. We thought learning lessons from last year’s experience, government would find proper ways of dealing with this programme,” he said.
Agriculture expert Tamani Nkhono Mvula said overshadowing the programme this year is different policy statements which government has made regarding how it will be implemented.
“Over the past three months or so we have heard several policy statements in regards to AIP and it is difficult to put them together to make sense. The government announced that they were going to use cooperatives. They announced a reduction in the number of beneficiaries. At the same time, the President made a directive that by September, which is this month, AIP should roll out.
“Then the same government announced that they are not going to use the private sector this year and they will use Admarc and NFRA instead. Right at the time when the programme is supposed to roll out, they are suspending Admarc staff. When you look at all these announcements you will see that there is confusion in the AIP,” he said.
The government reduced the AIP budget from K142 billion in 2021 to K109 billion this year.
For this this year, government has reduced the number of beneficiaries by about 50 percent.
A bidding document for the supply, warehousing and retailing of fertilisers under the 2022-23 AIP shows that government is looking at procuring 92,850,000 kilogrammes (kg) of Urea fertiliser and a similar quantity for NPK fertiliser.
This translates to 1,857,000 50kg bags for each type of fertiliser.
Last year government planned to procure 371 million kg (7,420,000 bags) for 3.7 million families targeted under the programme but not all of them accessed the inputs due to supply irregularities.
As of August 1, none of the members of the Fertilizer Association of Malawi had signed any deal with the government for importation of fertiliser.
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