Nelly Bassily | January 24, 2011
In 2005, the Malawi government introduced subsidies for fertilizer and seeds. State organizations operate a coupon system, overseen by local government. With the subsidy, many small-scale farmers were able to afford fertilizer, and yields rose. Overall, food security in Malawi increased and the scheme was deemed a success.
But the scheme has been the subject of much study, comment and controversy. Technical specialists disagree on whether fertilizer subsidies are a long-term solution; economists question whether subsidies are affordable or desirable as government policy; and farmers who do not qualify for the subsidy complain that they are at a disadvantage, and still hungry. Next week we will bring you a story from a Malawian farmer who has tried a different approach. This farmer has increased his yields by intercropping his maize with pigeon pea.
Here are some international viewpoints and commentaries on the subsidy scheme:
Going against the grain: Malawi’s fertiliser subsidy: http://www.new-ag.info/focus/focusItem.php?a=474
How fertiliser subsidies have transformed Malawi: http://www.bioenergy3.org/2011/01/how-fertiliser-subsidies-have-transformed-malawi/
Is Malawi’s ‘green revolution’ a model for Africa? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12061998
Desperation Over Subsidies: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=53965
There is also an interesting BBC radio program about Malawi, subsidies and small-scale agriculture here (The program may not be available to all listeners): http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00wrbt6.
Farm Radio Weekly has published stories about fertilizer subsidies previously, for example:
Africa: Fertilizer subsidies don’t always reach those in need (FRW 83, October 2009) http://weekly.farmradio.org/2009/10/05/1-africa-fertilizer-subsidies-don%E2%80%99t-always-reach-those-in-need-various-sources/
Africa: Fertilizer subsidies can improve food security (FRW 82, September 2009) http://weekly.farmradio.org/2009/09/28/1-africa-fertilizer-subsidies-can-improve-food-security-various-sources/
Malawi: Despite maize surplus some farmers are hungry (FRW 84, October 2009) http://weekly.farmradio.org/2009/10/19/2-malawi-despite-maize-surplus-some-farmers-are-hungry-ips/
Broadcasters in Malawi can follow this debate in local media, and look for ways to contribute to the debate. This topic is not just relevant in Malawi, as other countries, like Zambia, have also introduced subsidies, so the debate has implications across Africa. You could research which groups the subsidies are aimed at, and how the schemes are administered. You might talk to farmers and find out the effect of subsidies on communities or families when some people are not eligible. Ask farmers whether subsidized inputs are relevant and desirable under local conditions, and whether distribution systems are effective and reliable. Balance farmers’ opinions by interviewing local government officials or those who administer the scheme. You could ask how administrators ensure that benefits reach those most in need. Are subsidies a long-term solution? Are there alternative solutions?