Written by RAPHAEL TENTHANI
That the farm in-put subsidy programme is a vote-getter isn’t in dispute. Every year those on the lower rung of the economy get coupons to procure two bags of fertiliser and some seed packs.
The first multi-party president, Bakili Muluzi, with the help of visionaries like the late Aleke Banda, started it as 'starter-packs'. The late president Bingu wa Mutharika perfected the programme as 'farm in-put subsidy programme'.
But does it work?
Every year there are complaints that people had the coupons to enable them access the fertiliser and seed but there were not enough supplies or chiefs only registered their relatives leaving out some deserving folks.
Just last week deputy Agriculture Minister Ulemu Chilapombwa announced that there would be fresh registration of beneficiaries because the earlier one was fraught with fraud.
If you carried out an honest audit you would find out that the famed subsidy programme is just a political gimmick that does not translate into real results. For example, there was a year when government budgeted for K19bn for the programme but because it was an election year the budget ballooned to K30bn. The proceeds from the programme did not justify the investment. In fact if government planned to feed all those that did not harvest enough the bill could not have exceeded even K15bn.
Various studies have shown that the farm in-put subsidy programme is unsustainable. But politics leaves governments ham-strung; any government that stops the programme risks paying at the polls.
But does the means justify the end? Feeding families that would not harvest enough would be much cheaper that sustaining a programme that no government gets right.
It is therefore high time we scrapped the programme and invested the saved resources into meaningful programmes. Government has the duty to feed its hungry populace, yes, but bluffing them with expensive programmes that do not yield results is an expense nobody can sustain in these austerity times.
Scrap the nonsensical subsidy programme and feed the poor if need be. In any case, subsidy or no subsidy, there are always pockets of Malawians that go hungry anyway.
By the way, the subsidy programme only boost finances of already rich folks. See the folks that are crying foul after being left out of supplying the bounty. Some of them never supplied their quota for last year on time but were still paid in full. The programme is just a 'get-rich-quick' scheme for the connected; the poor beneficiaries - most of whom do not even see the bags of fertiliser - are just used as bait to fish out the millions.
(c) The Maravi Post 2012.