The Board chairperson for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Hailemariam Desalegn -- who is also former Prime Minister of Ethiopia -- met with Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera at State House in Lilongwe on Saturday where they discussed progress on the country's agricultural transformation.
AGRA is Malawi's key agriculture partner working to transform the country's agricultural systems and increase the productivity and income of smallholder farmers.
A statement from AGRA says Dessalegn affirmed his commitment of supporting Malawi to transform its economy going forward and during the meeting took cognizance of the success of the farm Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP) which Chakwera launched soon after taking over the government in June last year.
Agriculture accounts for 42% of Malawi's GDP and the AIP was rolled out to help drive the country's economy through this industry which is the first line of feeding the citizenry.
During the meeting, Dessalegn applauded Chakwera's administration that since its launch, the AIP "has already reached 3.7 million smallholder farmers who could hardly access fertilizer and improved seed".
"This is a huge achievement considering the very short period since your Government took charge of state affairs", he is quoted as saying.
"The US$187 million (MK140.2 billion) AIP was designed to improve agricultural productivity in Malawi by subsidizing the cost of agricultural inputs for the benefit of the country's farmers.
"Still in its first year, the AIP -- which initially targeted 4.2 million smallholder farming households, allows farmers to buy a 50kg bag of fertilizer at an affordable US$6 instead of the usual US$25 to US$28."
The statement added that Dessalegn appraised Chakwera of his visit to Nkhotakota, Benga where he appreciated the work of a local seed company (Global Seeds) that is being supported by AGRA Malawi.
He is also reported to have seen first-hand how the newly-developed groundnut varieties of GG 9 and CG 11 -- which were bred for their rosette resistance trait -- have been commercialized by smallholder farmers, thereby transforming their livelihoods.
The AGRA Board Chair also briefed President Chakwera on the Hub Agro dealer extension and agro-input distribution model through Community Agribusiness Advisors in Nathenje/Lilongwe East.
"This model facilitates agriculture service delivery to smallholders through women cooperative groups known as Village Banks/Village Savings and Loan Associations.
"The Agro dealer hub model is an engine for facilitating Malawi's rural transformation. There is need to continue supporting research institutions to develop better high yielding crop varieties.
"There is also need to de-risk lending to smallholder farmers and support them to produce three times a year through irrigation. Lake Malawi presents a huge opportunity for irrigation and land does not seem a challenge for the country.
"Malawi is on the right path towards achieving an inclusive agriculture transformation", Dessalegn is quoted as saying.
In launching the K160.2 billion AIP, President Chakwera had said the country has been a poor and famine-infested nation because very few farming households had a chance to access cheap and affordable farming inputs.
He had said as an agricultural dependent economy, there was need to invest heavily in the sector to maximize agricultural gains and grow the country's economy -- thus the need to assist farming households with cheap and affordable farm inputs such as fertilizer and seed at a larger scale.
The AIP came into being by abolishing the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) because only few were benefitting and that there were a lot of loopholes that gave ill-minded people an opportunity to steal from poor farmers.
At the launch, Chakwera assured farmers of readily available markets for their crop produce, saying Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) would be heavily funded and ready to buy farm produce immediately farmers start harvesting their crops.
"Farmers have for many years worked in vain; time is here for them to make profit out of their sweat. We are revamping operations of ADMARC and there will be no time for intermediaries or vendors who have, for a long time, reaped off our farmers," he had said.
Each AIP beneficiaries farming households were buying two 50kgs bags of NPK (basal) and UREA (top dressing) fertilizer at K4,495 each and a 7kgs pack of maize, rice or sorghum seed at K2,000.
The programme provided 427,910 metric tonnes of fertilizer of which 213,955 is UREA and 213,955 NPK and 21,396 metric tonnes of cereal seeds.
AGRA has been operating in Malawi since 2006 but was established as a country office in 2017 and all major continental AGRA programmes have been implemented in the country.
These include the Soil Health Programme (SHP), the Programme for Africa's Seed Systems (PASS), and the Scaling Seeds and Technologies Partnership in Africa (SSTP).
AGRA says over the years, it has spent more than $23 million in Malawi through grants supporting capacity building, research and development, input production and distribution, agriculture transformation awareness, adoption and production and post-harvest handling.
It currently supports Government to develop and implement policies that result in a conducive environment for a private sector-led agriculture transformation and strengthening Government capacity to deliver on its priorities and mandate.
The organisationalso strengthens agriculture systems (inputs, financing, markets, mechanization, extension) and working with strategic partnerships to facilitate the alignment of government priorities and private sector interests, improving integration and coordination -- leading to investments beneficial to smallholder farmers.
AGRA is supported by the Partnership for an Inclusive Agriculture Transformation in Africa: BMGF, USAID, The Rockefeller Foundation, FCDO and BMZ, among others.