Friday, 28 October 2011

Malawi fertilizer programme feels the pinch

Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika is well known for having taken huge strides for his country in terms of food security during his first term in power through the country's fertilizer subsidy programme. Malawi is a poor country, a lot of the population is poor, fertilizer means people can grow enough to eat and sell. Makes perfect logical sense.

But it is also an expensive programme to sustain, especially when the government appears to be intent of scaring off all foreign donors. After aid was withdrawn by the UK and Germany, the Malawian government put out a zero-deficit budget that caused outcries from the people who would be carrying the burden of increased taxes. One of the things that was carefully ring-fenced, though, was the fertilizer programme. I imagine cutting the expensive and large-scale programme that has brought food security to millions would be a sure-fire way to lose voter support.

Sadly for the government, as well, I imagine, as millions of Fisp small farmers, numbers in a budget don't necessarily translate into money to spend. Especially when the country's main cash crop - tobacco - had a terrible year. And the seed suppliers are still owed MK1-billion from last year. This article sounds the alarm that lack of foreign exchange may mean that all the will in the world won't get the fertilizer to the people, or at least that the programme won't reach nearly all the people it is supposed to this year. Already government has dropped the targeted number of farmers by 200 000 - ostensibly in order to invest more in each farmer in the hopes of increasing the sustainability of the programme.

Perhaps the government will pull a rabbit out of their hat and the programme will roll out without a hitch. If not, there could be serious food security implications for 1.4 million farmers who may be waiting in vain for fertilizer and for all the people who normally eat what the small farmers produce.

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