Malawi: Efforts to rescue subsidy programme affected by corruption may yet bear fruit (IPS)

    | December 9, 2013

    Download this story

    Gogo Munthali dissolves into tears every morning as she worries about what to feed her five orphaned grandchildren. Her youngest grandson is living with AIDS. She says, “Samson may not be with me for long; he is on treatment and I can’t give him the food he needs.”

    Mrs. Munthali lives in Rumphi district. Her village, over 400 kilometres north of Malawi’s capital Lilongwe, was among the first beneficiaries of Malawi’s Farm Input Subsidy Programme, or FISP, which was introduced eight years ago.

    Over a million small-scale farmers were provided with subsidized fertilizers and hybrid maize. Village headmen identified beneficiaries, with priority being given to households headed by women and children.

    Maize output more than doubled nationwide in the first two years. This pushed economic growth to nearly seven and a half per cent, exceeding the World Bank target of six per cent for sub-Saharan Africa.

    But today, Mrs. Munthali is suffering. Due to the late delivery of subsidized fertilizers, she is unable to reproduce the crop yields she had started to achieve. The 65-year-old widow says, “For the last four years … I have had to plant my crop three weeks late and this has reduced my harvest drastically.”

    Mary Juma, from Malawi’s Central Region has a similar story. She says, “We got so used to waiting for cheap fertilizers every year but now things have changed. [One day] we are beneficiaries, the next day we are not.”  When the FISP fertilizer was delivered to her area, it was well below the required amount. Many families did not receive any fertilizer at all.

    Chris Chisoni is the national secretary for Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace. The organization conducted a study in 19 districts of Malawi to find out why fertilizers arrived late, whether corruption was involved, and how this affected small-scale farmers. He says: “The story of FISP since it was launched has always been about how it has helped reduce poverty … no one has bothered to find out what has really happened to the poor farmers being targeted.”

    Mr. Chisoni continues: “We discovered that those entrusted with the responsibility of selling the inputs are asking the poor farmers to pay more than the 500 kwacha ($1.20 US), which is the recommended subsidy price, forcing many who cannot afford [it] to do without.”

    Wide scale corruption within FISP has played a huge part in the failure to improve the lives of many farmers. An investigation into the programme by Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau was conducted in 2007, but has not been publicly released. However, Inter Press Service reports that FISP nearly collapsed in 2005 after a preferred supplier from Saudi Arabia failed to deliver fertilizers on time.

    No action was taken by the government when this situation arose, and now delays in the delivery of fertilizers have now become the norm.

    Mrs. Joyce Banda, Malawi’s current President, promised this year to improve the situation. The Ministry of Agriculture subsequently disqualified local and international suppliers who were delivering the inputs late. This year, many companies have failed to pass the stringent measures that have now been put in place.

    Jeffrey Luhanga is the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture. He blames the former government for fuelling the corruption that affected small-scale farmers.

    He says, “This is a good program with good intentions but failure to rid [the program of] corruption has ended up in some bad results for the program and punished farmers and made others rich.”