National Planning Commission (NPC) has proposed radical reforms in the multi-billion kwacha Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) to act as a productivity-enhancing social protection programme than the current consumptive one.
In a statement, NPC director general Thomas Chataghalala Munthali said AIP should target food security beyond maize or be a programme that primarily subsidises the production of high-value crops as well as livestock and fisheries.
Munthali, whose analysis comes at a time of high fertiliser prices, budgetary resource constraints and the need for the country to produce for exports, explained that AIP should transform from being a consumptive programme to a productive initiative.
He said: “We need a strong agricultural diversification programme backed by effective extension services for production of high-value crops such as industrial hemp and medical cannabis, edible nuts, legumes, high-value horticulture as well as livestock and fisheries with niche products largely destined for the export market as defined in the second National Export Strategy.”
In his analysis, Munthali said if AIP is transformed, it can be a catalyst for building a new niche of high-value exportable farm products beyond tobacco with high-level assurance that those supported are bound to graduate and being taxed to support the resource poor but productive farming families.
Based on unprecedented rise in fertiliser prices, experts observe that the AIP will require more resources that will affect the implementation of 2022/23 National Budget which has a projected deficit of K884 billion.
Minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe said while the main objective of AIP is to secure supply and access to staple food primarily maize, it has incorporated livestock, which means the programme will be undergoing constant reviews.
He said government is already working to empower farmers to go commercial through a $95 million Agricultural Commercialisation (Agcom) project funded by the World Bank, which is also investing in productive capital assets to mechanise smallholder agriculture.
Lowe said: “We are already supporting smallholder producer organisations and cooperatives to increase productivity, diversify the export and food base through various interventions.”
A recent study by agricultural economist Wisdom Mgomezulu, who is the acting director of research at Daeyang University, called for re-designing of AIP to consider distributing subsidised inputs to cooperatives.