"It's shameful that the UDF party wants to take us back to the dark days,"

Mr Gwanda Chakuamba (2003)

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Malawi gives farmers a chance

Mail & Guardian South Africa

In a two-bedroomed iron house in the
southern district of Phalombe, Malawi, Simati Matupa is watching the
television he has just bought. Seated beside the 37-year-old farmer is
his wife. The Matupa family had dreamed of owning a television set for
a long time, but it was difficult because of a lack of money. But this
year, after a bumper harvest, they decided the time had come.

Phalombe is about 90km south of Blantyre, Malawi's commercial capital.
Here the Matupas own four acres of land, but for a long time the family
did not have enough food to last the whole year because of high costs
of farm inputs such as seed and fertiliser.

The Agricultural Input Subsidy Programme was introduced in 2004 by
Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika, immediately after he took office.
Last year the family was among the list of targeted poor households to
benefit from the programme.

"I received a 50kg bag of subsidised fertiliser and 10kg of seed. I
planted the seed and after applying fertiliser using the technological
skills from agricultural extension workers, I was surprised at the
yield I harvested," says Matupa.

He did not cultivate all four acres of land "because I was not sure
whether I would make it". He harvested enough to feed his family and
had extra maize, which he sold to buy a television set, two bicycles
and a three-CD player. He was also able to open a grocery store.
Smiling broadly, Matupa says he hopes the subsidy programme continues
for the betterment of many poor farmers. He says a number of farmers in
the district have enough food because of the programme. "If I were
asked whether the programme should continue or not I would prefer the

Matupa is one of the millions of Malawians benefiting from the subsidy
programme. Patrick Matemba from the same district of Phalombe told the
Mail & Guardian, soon after receiving a 50kg bag of subsidised
fertiliser, that he echoes Matupa's sentiments. "This programme has had
a significant impact on the lives of poor Malawians. Most of us are
food secure because of this programme," he says.

Mutharika introduced the programme after noting in 2002 that Malawi was
in a crisis as a result of drought in some parts of the country and the
high costs of farm inputs. During the last growing season a 50kg bag of
fertilizer was selling at $25. A subsidised bag is $6. An estimated 60%
of the population lives on less than $1 a day, a situation the
president has on a number of occasions said could be changed for the

Since Mutharika took office Malawi's economy has grown to 6% annually.
Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe has attributed this growth to the
government's "good economic policies".

For the first time in years farmers are in a position to buy cars or
build new iron-sheet houses, an indication that the subsidy programme
is benefiting the poor. The sick, especially those infected with HIV,
have enough food to eat and so can prolong their lives. About 14% of
the country's 13,6-million population are HIV-positive.

From the start Mutharika, who is also the
country's minister of agriculture and food security, said he would not
allow "Malawi to continue begging from donors when the country is able
to produce enough food to feed itself". The president has told the
nation that donors, especially the United States and Britain, did not
want to fund the subsidy programme because "they are saying the
programme would be costly to the country". But he has vowed to continue
with the programme "as long as he remains the president".

The cost of fertiliser has gone up from MK4 000 last year to MK11 000
this year. Despite the increase, the president reduced the cost of the
subsidised fertiliser by a further 20% this year to allow more farmers

In addition, Mutharika hasmade irrigation one of his priorities in
achieving food security. Two years ago his administration budgeted for
400 treadle pumps per MP, to be distributed in the MPs' respective

It is because of the president's leadership that, in the 2006/07
marketing season, Malawi was able to harvest an extra 500 000 tons of
maize. Some of the maize was sold to Zimbabwe. Malawi also exported
maize to other countries in the Southern Africa Development Community,
including to Lesotho following drought in that country.

Mutharika's efforts have been recognised by a number of international
organisations and countries. Recently he received from the Food,
Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) the
first Food Policy Leadership Award for transforming the country from
food deficit to food surplus.

The annual Food Policy Leadership Award was established in 2008. It has
no cash prizes but includes, among other things, a trophy, a signed
certificate and some prizes donated by FANRPAN partners.

FANRPAN board member Sindiso Ngwenya says the success of Mutharika's
subsidy programme has en-abled the country to feed itself as well as
its neighbours.

Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Frank Mwenefumbo told
a Kenyan delegation, during a September visit to learn more about the
subsidy programme, that "without the subsidy programme Malawians would
have starved to death". He said there were no "immediate plans to stop"
the programme and that discontinuing it would not be in the best
interest of the nation.

Although the programme has received overwhelming support from the
people, it has shortcomings. Some targeted individuals fail to get the
coupon vouchers because of the "unscrupulous people who produce fake
coupon vouchers", according to Mwenefumbo. Others receive more than
they are entitled to and Mutharika has warned that his government would
deal with "anyone who wants to derail my programme".

He has blamed the opposition for the problems rocking the distribution
process. But the opposition has denied any link either to fake coupon
vouchers or failure by the target groups to access subsidised seed and

A number of people have been arrested and these include chiefs and
opposition party members. But despite some shortcomings within the
programme Malawians are now far better off in terms of food security
than they were in 2002 when more than six million people had no food.
And for thatthey have Mutharika to thank.

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