It has emerged that the Tonse Alliance’s flagship mega farms project has received K2 billion out of a required K18.4billion through the Greenbelt Authority (GBA), creating a yawning implementation gap.
Briefing Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture and Irrigation at Parliament Building in Lilongwe yesterday, GBA chief executive officer Eric Chidzungu said the programme is facing funding challenges, with only K2 billion allocated in the 2023/24 National Budget.
He said the K2 billion is also yet to be disbursed to the authority, which is one of the key implementers of the programme.
Said Chidzungu: “We badly need this funding to start implementation. The rainy season is almost here, and expectations are that the Greenbelt is one of the key implementers of the mega farms programme, which should also deal with the issue of food security.”
He told the committee that GBA is currently responsible for three mega farms; namely, Nkopola Irrigation Scheme in Mangochi for the production of maize, Chipoka Farm in Salima for the production of cotton, and Lweya Irrigation Scheme in Nkhata Bay for rice farming.
Chidzungu said the expectation is for the GBA to contribute to the country’s food security, but lack of funding has been a setback in the mega farms and other projects that the authority is carrying out.
Under the mega farms, GBA plans to cultivate 400 hectares (ha) of maize at Nkopola Scheme, which has800ha. At Lweya Scheme in Nkhata Bay, GBA plans to cultivate 200ha out of the 700ha.
According to Chidzungu, apart from the mega farms, other projects under the GBA are also facing funding challenges.
GBA requested K5.09 billion this year for the Nthola Ilora Rice Irrigation Scheme, but government allocated only K800million of which K589 million has been released to the authority.
Committee chairperson Sameer Suleman said the committee is shocked that the mega farms have so little funding.
He wondered why government has been proclaiming that it is embarking on the mega farms when there is nothing on the ground.
Said Suleman: “Government needs to match action with words. The mega farms are the way to go for the country to achieve food security and boost exports, but there is lack of seriousness on the part of government.”
When contacted on the inadequate funding towards GBA, Treasury spokesperson Taurai Banda said first he needed to see proof of the funding request by GBA before commenting.
On the failure to release the K2billion allocated in the budget, he said he needed to consult on the matter.
In June 2022, President Lazarus Chakwera ordered the Ministry of Agriculture to produce results in the implementation of mega farms.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, the governing Tonse Alliance promised to establish mega farms across the country to boost agricultural production and national development.