Harriet Smart: we can do better as rice farmers if fully supported

Rice farmers from Domasi Irrigation Scheme cooperative in Machinga district have bemoaned the exclusion of rice farmers in the soon-to-commence Affordable Input Programme (AIP).

Speaking during a media tour that Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET) organised as part of a USAID funded Strengthening Inclusive Agriculture Sector Growth and Sustainable Natural Resource Governance in Malawi project, the farmers have since asked the government to consider including them on the list of the beneficiaries.

AIP is a social facility that allows approximately 3.7 million needy farmers to buy farm inputs at subsidised price.

“There are many rice farmers across the country including us here at Domasi Irrigation Scheme. We find it very worrying that whenever government officials are registering beneficiaries for AIP, priority is given to maize and other crops and not rice,” laments Anderson Chapita, Chairperson for Domasi irrigation Scheme.

“We feel this shouldn’t be the case because rice is a cash crop and a staple for many families and we feel if it can receive equal boost like maize, the benefits will be many. Now we are forced to buy fertiliser at a commercial price and this year the prices have gone even higher and this might impact on our production”.

Recently, the government backtracked on ministry of agriculture’s move to reduce AIP beneficiaries by one million.

Farmers Union of Malawi Chief Executive Officer, Jacob Nyirongo, was quoted by the Nation Newspaper saying: “Sustaining last year’s beneficiaries (4.7 million) is a good move and we really appreciate the President’s stand. Our concern, however, is that government is focusing on maize only. Our wish is that it should be extended to legumes because these crops have nutrition and economic benefits.”

Harriet Smart is a member of the irrigation scheme and she says apart from a need to include them on AIP, the farmers also need quality extension services and loans to boost their production.

“If it weren’t for Farmers Union of Malawi through the project they are implementing here, many of us would have still been harvesting 400 kgs and not 600 kgs as is the case now from a 0.1 hectares piece of land. We never had improved seeds that would give more yields and besides not having them, we didn’t know how to cultivate quality seeds”, she explains.

“If this project comes to an end, we need the government to employ people that should be visiting us more often and help us on how we can harvest and make more money through farming. With FUM, this has been possible, but we need this sustained beyond the project period.”

The 32 years farmer also added that they need loans to boost their production and valued their products so that they sell at a more bigger profit.

“Imagine if our rice was packaged, how much more would we sell it for?” she quizzed. “But we can’t do all that because we do not have access to loans that would enable us elect such facilities. But this is possible and all we need is access to good loans – especially for us women.”

Pamela Kuwali is CISANET National Director and she concurs with the farmers arguing that the National Agriculture Policy and National Agriculture Investment Plan among other things focusses on vulnerable groups which include women and youths.

“Over 70 percent of farmers in Malawian farmers are women and youths and yet do not have everything that they need to do agriculture correctly and they need support,” she explains. “So implementing the agriculture policy through the national agriculture investment plan would be a game a changer for this country. “But the fact that we are still producing a lot maize in comparison to other value chains and that year in year out – even during the years of surplus – we have a case load of more than a million people that are at risk of food security means that somewhere our policies are not working, and this calls for action both at national and district level to make sure we are responding to the challenges farmers are facing and we are implementing appropriate interventions.”