Kondwani Nankhumwa, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, says he is aware of the debate on whether to stop or continue the FISP program, and he always appreciates both sides of the argument.
“Those that are against the FISP argue from the cost side of things; they question the sustainability of the program in the long run, particularly in light of meagre and competing resources. We should, however, be mindful of the fact that it is the vision of the DPP government under the able tutelage of President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika to uplift as many Malawians out of the poverty basket as possible, and government cannot do that without investing in pro-poor programs.
The FISP program is a pro-poor program that aims at helping Malawians to attain food self sufficiency particularly at household level and I would naturally support that program.
The goal of FISP is to enhance food self sufficiency by increasing smallholder farmers’ access to and use of improved agricultural inputs thereby boosting the incomes of resource-poor farmers,” the minister made the observation in an interview with MBC Online.
Finance Minister Joseph Mwanamveka announced on Monday when he presented the 2019/20 National Budget in Parliament in Lilongwe, government had allocated K35.5 billion towards FISP this year.
Highlighting some of the major challenges in the agriculture sector, the minister observed that the sector is fraught with a myriad of challenges such as low farm gate prices, crop diseases and poor infrastructure including plant and equipment to support initiatives for improved agricultural productivity.
“We are also dealing with the low adoption levels of improved agricultural technologies due to inaccessibility, affordability, and high illiteracy among farming communities. The agriculture sector has also not escaped the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which has robbed the sector of many technical and productive professionals thereby retarding the vision and mission of the ministry. “All this calls for extra effort in terms of resources and focus, which is also another challenge on its own, but as a ministry, we are on top of things and attuned to deal with these challenges,” he told the publication.
Nankhumwa said that it is the goal of the DPP government “under the empowering vision of President Professor Arthur Mutharika” to completely eradicate hunger in this country.
“There are many factors that lead to the hunger situation and Malawi has been particularly vulnerable to acts of God such as floods and droughts in recent years. I want to assure Malawians that government has a comprehensive plan to deal with hunger and improve the food security situation within the short, medium to long term. Within the short term, government is procuring maize through ADMARC and the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) so that the staple is available to the people throughout the year,” he said.
In the medium and long term, the minister said government is implementing various comprehensive programs and projects, with emphasis on irrigation farming, to maximize food production. “So, with these and other deliberate interventions, I can assure you that hunger would soon be history in Malawi,” said Nankhumwa.
Specifically commenting on cotton, the minister observed that production has been fluctuating over the past 10 years and that lately, production has been very low.
“I will be engaging all stakeholders in the cotton industry to explore the major challenges that are negatively affecting cotton production. I will ensure that, with the involvement of experts in my ministry, we create a conducive environment to ensure a substantial increase in cotton production, including ensuring that we take necessary steps to improve the quality of our cotton to meet local demand and export any surpluses,” he said, adding that apart providing cash incomes to farmers and foreign exchange, cotton seeds provide raw material for manufacturing of cooking oil and livestock feeds.
Nankhumwa thanked President Mutharika “for yet again entrusting me with this enormous responsibility to preside over this critical ministry, especially considering the fact that our economy is essentially agro-based”. “I will continue to engage all stakeholders to ensure that we create an environment for sustainable solutions to the myriad challenges that we face, and within the larger scheme of the whole economy.
“I would like to ensure that our farmers are able to see handsome rewards for their work. I believe together we can do it,” said the minister. He also said the tobacco industry has “a special place in my heart” because tobacco is key to the growth of the economy. “I believe the sustainability of tobacco will be assured only if farmers produce high quality tobacco. That is my overriding responsibility in as far as tobacco production is concerned,” Nankhumwa said.