The Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Mvac) in its assessment report issued in August estimates that about 4.4 million Malawians will face hunger in the 2023/24 consumption period.
This comes against a backdrop of government spending billions of kwacha in the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) which aims to attain food security at household and national level as well as to alleviate poverty.
With AIP, a successor to the Farm Inputs Subsidy Programme (Fisp), Malawians were told, just like the other farm subsidy programmes before, that hunger will be a thing of the past.
In fact, not long ago, Malawians were told the country has surplus maize which will be sold to countries like South Sudan.
Despite criticism from several quarters on how the programme is being implemented, government has been adamant to review it and find a lasting solution to the perpetual hunger that Malawi faces
Part of the reason this programme exists today despite evidence on the ground that it is somehow poorly managed and a waste of resources is politics. This is a programme that every individual aspiring for the presidency dangles at poor Malawians who often have few choices or none at all when it comes to food.
For a majority of Malawians, food is maize and nothing else. By now, I am quite certain that even the President knows that this AIP is a white elephant but he is forced to keep it intact for fear of losing votes.
In the end, Malawians keep paying heavily for something that is not achieving its intended goals. The biggest mistake in the implementation of the AIP, just like Fisp, is in the targeting of wrong beneficiaries.
I do not believe that government has done a good job in assessing the beneficiaries. If they did, they would know that most of the target beneficiaries have very small land, very small that even if they were to grow maize twice a year, hunger will still bite them hard.
And then, most of the beneficiaries are aged. The intention is good but the targeting is wrong. With an ageing population of Malawian farmers, it’s clear that agriculture needs to attract young and energetic people.
A report by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) says the exodus of rural youth to urban areas—where they go to look for green pastures, means fewer small-scale farmers left in the rural areas. It also means few small-scale farmers for tomorrow, drastically changing the profile of agriculture.
In Malawi’s case, the land is often readily available at no cost in rural areas.
The government needs to attract the youth to agriculture by incentivizing it in such a way that the youth should start looking at agriculture the same way they do with engineering or medicine.
As a country, it is high time the government puts in deliberate policies and mechanisms to mechanise agriculture. If we keep on using stone-age tools for farming, Malawi should forget ever getting out of perpetual hunger.
The government needs to get it right with targeting, modernise and incentivise agriculture, especially for large-scale farmers. Agricultural subsidies in their current form are not helping alleviate hunger among millions of Malawians instead the programme is enriching suppliers of the inputs more than the intended beneficiaries, ordinary Malawians.