Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM), a mouth-piece of farmers in the country, says it welcomes government stance to have the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) intact.
But the union says three major improvements are needed, including pricing, beneficiary targetting and getting logistical costs.
FUM chief executive officer Prince Kapondamgaga on Tuesday challenged government that farmers are now willing to payout as a contribution to the cost of purchasing one bag of fertiliser.
Kapondamgaga also suggested that government should improve on the way it is targeting beneficiaries of the programme by ensuring that only economically productive farmers are directly supported as opposed to the ‘unproductive farmers.’
“Fisp needs to be there and support to the farmers needs to be there. But we think pushing up the price of a bag of fertiliser from K500 to an average figure of K5 000 is a way to go and more realistic,” said Kapondamgaga, adding that their farmers are the one willing to pay K5 000 for a bag.
He was speaking in the context of the union’s input into the 2015/16 budget after FUM management interfaced with the District Farmers Union members from Thyolo, Dedza, Mzimba, Mangochi and Ntcheu to solicit their input into the national budget.
In recent times, Fisp, which is Malawi’s biggest social protection programme, has been a centre of controversy with radical thinkers proposing to government to abolish the system completely, saying it is a drain on the public purse.
In the 2014/15 National Budget, for example, government had allocated K142 billion to the agriculture sector out of which K50.8 billion went to Fisp alone, targeting 1.5 million beneficiaries.
But the 2014/15 approved estimate was later in February revised upwards by K10 billion to nourish replanted crops where they were washed away by incessant floods.
That supplementary figure brought the Fisp budget for the current fiscal year to K60 billion, roughly about eight percent of the national budget.
Currently, Fisp beneficiaries pay a paltry K500 to redeem their bag valued at about K15 000 on the commercial market.
The FUM boss also tipped government that it could use the resources saved in the programme—assuming farmers would buy a bag of fertiliser at K5 000—to invest in other agriculture subsectors that are currently under-funded.
“These include extension services, marketing of agriculture produce through Admarc whose infrastructure is in sorry state. Admarc could be financed to address marketing challenges,” he said.
On logistics, Kapondamgaga said government could also save a huge chunk of resources if it could deal with farmers that are already clustered in groups or cooperatives across the country instead of recruiting new people in logistics, which he said eats into the Fisp budget.
Last week, Finance, Economic Planning and Development Minister Goodall Gondwe said government will continue to implement Fisp despite calls by other stakeholders to abandon it.