Africa, Development & Aid, Food and Agriculture, Headlines, Poverty & SDGs

AGRICULTURE: Desperation Over Subsidies

Claire Ngozo

LILONGWE, Malawi, Dec 26 2010 (IPS) - As the rains start to fall in Malawi, marking the beginning of the growing season, government is continuing to implement the fertiliser and seed subsidy programme which has since made the country a bread basket in the Southern African Development Community, SADC.

Young woman working in a maize field Credit: Claire Ngozo

Young woman working in a maize field Credit: Claire Ngozo

The programme, introduced in 2004, is for smallholder farmers who cannot afford farm inputs such as seed and fertiliser at the normal market price. But many needy farmers are being left out, and are employing desperate measures in order to access these commodities – ranging from attempting to sell a parent, to selling their own private parts. Some people have also been shot as they scrambled for these much-needed inputs.

A 21 -year-old man, Jolam Ganizani, from Malawi’s central district of Ntchisi, is in police custody after he attempted to sell his own mother to use the money to buy fertiliser and seed.

Police prosecutor Sub Inspector Peter Njiragoma told local journalists last month that Ganizani had confessed to the police that he was so poverty- stricken that he felt that selling his mother would be the solution to his problems.

“He had wanted to use the money obtained from selling his mother to buy farm inputs which would assist him to grow a lot of crops and harvest more,” explained Njiragoma.

According to the police, Ganizani was working with a herbalist in Mozambique who advised him that his mother could be used as a slave by businesspeople.

Malawi is highly susceptible to human trafficking because of high levels of poverty, low literacy levels and HIV/AIDS, according to a local NGO, the Malawi Network Against Child Trafficking, MNACT.

MNACT Coordinator Maxwell Matewere told IPS this month that many women and children are facing exploitation and are being trafficked within and outside the country.

But Ganizani is not the only person desperate to access inputs for his agricultural activities. Another man, 22-year-old Pilirani Lazarous, is receiving medical care after he cut off his private parts in November and was offering them for sale in order to use the money to buy fertiliser for his one- hectare garden.

Speaking from his hospital bed at Kamuzu Central Hospital in the country’s capital, Lilongwe, Lazarous, a father of one, told IPS he was not on the list to access the subsidised fertiliser as he had failed to register and had to find a way of buying the “expensive fertiliser”.

He said he had heard that there is a vibrant market for private parts and that made him decide on selling his own. “Unfortunately, the first people I approached reported me to the police. I was immediately taken to the hospital and I am now so sad that I can’t buy fertiliser, despite that I am maimed for life,” said Lazarous.

According to the police both Ganizani and Lazarous are sane. However, without access to the coupons that allow people to access the subsidised fertiliser, many people continue to be desperate. The beneficiaries in the subsidy programme receive two coupons – one for accessing cheap seed and the other for buying fertiliser at a subsidised rate.

With a coupon, one is able to buy a 5 kilogramme bag of seed at just 65 cents and a 50 kilogramme bag of fertiliser at only $3. The normal market price for the same amount of seed is $12 and a 50 kilogramme bag of fertiliser is $33. Up to 60 percent of the country’s 13.1 million population lives below the poverty line, according to the United Nations. They cannot therefore afford to buy the inputs at the normal price and end up fighting tooth and nail to access the commodities.

Early this month two women, also from Lilongwe, were hospitalised with serious injuries after guards shot at them. The women were scrambling to gain access to the subsidised fertiliser.

Police confirmed the incident, explaining that the women were part of a big crowd who thought that the fertiliser had been delivered at the trading area would not be enough for everyone present. “The guards were trying to control the crowd and they ended up shooting some two women by accident,” said a police report released soon after the incident.

There have been many reports on government’s failure to provide enough subsidised inputs for beneficiaries of the subsidy programme to many parts of the country.

During the December 2010 sitting of Parliament, legislators took Minister of Agriculture Peter Mwanza to task on why the commodities were not available in many areas. Mwanza blamed the problems on “transportation problems”.

Principal Secretary in Ministry of Agriculture also said many farmers are rapidly buying the inputs and that this is putting pressure on the supply logistics to the outlets selling the subsidies.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, 1.6 million farming households are to benefit from this year’s subsidy.

Despite challenges at home with the agriculture subsidy programme, Bingu wa Mutharika, Malawi’s president, who is also African Union chairperson, is urging African ministers of agriculture and finance to lobby for subsidies in the agriculture sector. “I urge you ministers of agriculture and finance to stand up and fight for subsidies.

There is no way an African farmer can survive without subsidies,” Mutharika told an Africa Agriculture ministers’ summit which took place in Malawi in October 2010

Malawi experienced severe food shortages in 2005, when up to five million people faced hunger but just three years later the agricultural subsidy programme has ended up with a bumper harvest year after year.

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