On soil health, fertiliser policy

Despite immense efforts by government in investing in fertilisers through the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp) since 2005, agriculture in Malawi continues to be marked by low productivity.

This is due to several reasons, including high soil degradation, poor land management, detrimental farming practices and use of low quantities and quality of fertilisers.

This has been exacerbated by continuous use of the same pieces of land without crop rotation, mainly due to population pressure on the land.

The draft National Fertiliser Policy (NFP) defines the vision for developing the fertiliser industry to increase affordable and profitable access to high-quality fertilizer products for all farmers by 2022.

New research from Department of Agricultural Research Service (Dars) exposes the need to advise farmers and other stakeholders on the right fertilisers for different geographic areas based on soil testing and mapping. It also calls for a shift from the blanket fertiliser recommendation the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has followed since 1975, with limited agricultural productivity results.

Against this background, the ministry, with financial and technical support from the US Agency for International Development (USAid) through the New Alliance Policy Acceleration Support Project (Napas), organised the much-awaited regional stakeholder consultations on the zero-draft NFP.

The consultations—held  in Mzuzu, Lilongwe and Blantyre  in  August —bought together public officials, agro-dealers, farmers, clubs, civil society, private sector,  researchers and other paticipants.

In her opening remarks in Mzuzu, Napas chief of party Flora Nankhuni said: “Agricultural productivity is very low partly due to increasing population pressure. In the country, we mine the same piece of land over and over again and this creates problems on the quality of the soil.”

During the consultations, lack of agricultural extension and advisory services on soil health  was a big issue.

Alliance for African Partnership director at Michigan State University, Professor Richard Mkandawire, recommended that the agenda on fertilizer should speak to larger challenges of soil health since Malawi’s soils are the most depleted in the region.

He reckoned that the country is well positioned in leading the growth of the fertiliser sector because the per-capita consumption of fertiliser is much higher than many countries in the region.

It is critical that the fertiliser policy framework begins to inform the future direction of the industry.

The NFP is aligned to the National Agriculture Policy and envisions that by 2022, agriculture in the country will increasingly be commercially oriented through specialisation of farm production that uses soil-specific and crop-specific, high-quality fertiliser to achieve sustainable agricultural production and productivity as well as farm output diversification at the national level.

The process of developing the policy started in November 2015 with Dars convening the first consultation with researchers, private sector and other players in the industry.

The Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet) joined Napas Malawi in supporting the ministry to conduct the community consultations.

From these inputs a zero-draft of the policy was produced. The draft is now being revised and is expected to be validated in next month before being submitted to the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) for approval by December. n


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