Ministry of Agriculture has said it is exploring other avenues to sustain the number of beneficiaries of the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP).
Due to financial challenges and rise in the cost of farm inputs, the ministry earlier revealed plans to scale down the number of beneficiaries from 3 788 105 to 2 740 893 in the 2021/22 farming season.
This means 1 047 212 beneficiaries from the 2020/21 financial year have been left out.
However, the ministry’s spokesperson Gracian Lungu yesterday said there should be no panic as that is not the final decision.
He said the ministry is exploring other avenues on how it can secure funding to support affected beneficiaries.
Said Lungu: “The reduction is just in preparation for the worst scenario where the ministry does not identify more funding for the programme.
“If the ministry identifies funding, there will be no need for reducing the number of beneficiaries.”
Asked if the ministry has engaged Treasury about the deficit fears, he said they have not contacted them.
“We are currently exploring other avenues. If we do not succeed then we will engage Treasury. But for the time being we cannot go to them when we have not exhausted all other avenues,” said Lungu.
But United Democratic Front leader in Parliament Ned Poya yesterday said they are surprised with the plans to scale down the number of beneficiaries, as the expectation was that more people will benefit this year.
He said: “Reducing the number of beneficiaries is unfortunate. In the Southern Region, a number of people did not harvest because their crops were damaged by pests.
“So, we expected more to benefit this growing season.”
However, Poya said AIP is unsustainable and there is need to find better ways of managing it.
Government has this year reduced the budget allocation for AIP to K140.2 billion from K160 billion in the 2020/21 National Budget.
On Thursday last week, the Ministry of Agriculture announced a reduction of beneficiaries to 2.7 million from 3.7 million.
In a letter to district commissioners Secretary for Irrigation Sandram Maweru said the decision has been arrived “due to financial constraints and rising of prices of fertiliser.”
“As you are aware that the 2021-2022 beneficiaries, data updating was done some weeks ago, the Ministry of Agriculture is writing you to let you know that the data submitted was looked through all processes.
“However due to financial constraints and rising of prices of fertiliser, after looking into these two compounded challenges, the ministry, has decided to have AIP scaling down of the beneficiaries to be done up to village level,” reads the letter in part.
According to the letter, those benefiting from this year’s season include vulnerable smallholder farmers; those not benefiting from any other agriculture supporting programmes, people with disabilities and the chronically ill.
In 2020, the new Tonse Alliance administration replaced Farm Inputs Programme implemented by the previous Democratic Progressive Party administration since 2005 with AIP, the alliance’s flagship election campaign promise that quadrupled the number of beneficiaries.