Recently, the CCAP Livingstonia Synod called the multibillion-kwacha agricultural subsidy a drain on public resources that has failed to end hunger and poverty.
The Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) and its predecessors have only left the poor dependent on the costly subsidy sustained only to enrich politicians and their business cronies.
The tenderpreneurs have reduced the subsidy to a legal tool for draining the Account Number One.
Every year, government spends billions subsidising subsistent farming riddled with multiple inefficiencies amid climate-related weather shocks.
Too much or too little rain all works to the detriment of AIP beneficiaries who have neither financial resources nor technical know-how to irrigate their crops.
This leaves the rain-dependent farmers in need of food aid.
As the subsidy has failed to break the vicious cycle of hunger and poverty, every year, the government is under pressure to subsidise grain prices for the poor majority who dominate the AIP lists.
This reduces the subsidy to a cash cow or scheme for amassing votes and enriching politicians as well as their cronies, who import, transport and distribute the inputs.
The politically-connected businesses drain over half of the subsidy.
When maize production fails due to drought, floods or pest attacks, the same curtails supply grain for hungry farmers to avert famine.
Besides, there are few commercial maize farmers in the country, but there are about seven large maize milling companies. The grain they process is mostly grown by subsistent farmers supported by government through AIP for domestic consumption.
Strangely, politicians and technocrats seldom interrogate where these companies get their maize.
Throughout the country, subsistent farmers openly sell grain meant for household food security to grain millers’ middlemen at prices that hardly recoup the cost of fertiliser.
The government cannot neglect the open grain sales because it pays a huge price to make the vital inputs affordable.
Effectively, the government is subsidising the grain for rich companies to make a killing from the toil of the poor AIP is meant to unshackle from hunger.
Additionally, farming is not just about inputs. Giving people subsidised inputs is nothing minus modern farming techniques.
Farmers without the requisite know-how will still go hungry and require subsidised grain from government silos.
Government needs to offer farmers modern farming techniques by investing more in agricultural extension programmes as did the one-party system.
Also, revive farm inputs’ loans for all who can ultilise them and repay according to their productivity.
The one-size-fits-all subsidy programme is just a politically convenient flop to entice voters.
Terminating the subsidy in its current form will free the Ministry of Agriculture to concentrate on other vital functions stifled by obsession with AIP, now worth K110 billion that only makes few rich elites richer.
This is happening at the expense of fisheries, livestock development, land resource management, extension service and research.
The laborious AIP activities overwhelm the ministry’s staff, forcing them to ignore other beneficial functions. The imbalanced focus slowly collapses vital services though agriculture remains the bedrock of Malawi’s economy.
Despite slumping into disarray, the sector employs over four in every five Malawians of working age.
The Integrated Household Survey of 2020 shows that Lilongwe and Phalombe, once highly productive agricultural zones, are among the districts inundated with poor households. This is ironic.
The emphasis on subsidised inputs for maize production have led to the slow death of other vital crops such as tobacco, cotton, beans and sunflower, shrinking industries that depended on these raw materials and jobs they offered.
Clearly, the current obsession with AIP is a poisonous pill requiring an antidote now, not later.
Petty politics of the belly will continue to hurl Malawi into abyssal poverty.