A Rural Women’s Assembly affiliate in Malawi, the Coalition of Women Farmers (COWFA), has raised a red flag around corporate capture of the government’s Farm Input Subsidy Programme.
COWFA says the multi-million dollar programme is simply a tool for enriching seed companies and transporters, and has little impact on the livelihoods of rural women and their families, who are meant to be the main beneficiaries.
Their case was presented to the 2nd Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal on Transnational Corporations held in Johannesburg recently.
Ellen Matupi lives in Kafukule and is a subsistence farmer growing maize and legumes. Although she has 32 acres of farm land, she is only able to grow crops on five acres due to lack of inputs or access to loans to purchase inputs.
However, the Malawi government spends millions annually to procure seed and fertiliser for re-sale at subsidised prices to needy farmers, but these hardly reach the targeted beneficiaries.
Matupi, who is the COWFA National Coordinator, says, “Much as there are 90 000 metric tonnes of fertiliser procured and 8 000 metric tonnes of seed distributed, it does not reach the 900 000 beneficiaries of the programme. The actual input subsidy beneficiaries are not benefiting from the programme.”
Monsanto Malawi is one of the major suppliers of seed towards the subsidy programme. Monsanto sells seed to the government at 5 000 Kwacha per 4kg which is in turn sold to farmers at a subsidised price of 2 500 Kwacha. However, the packet of seed does not benefit a single farming household but is shared between two to three households. The result has been little impact on the maize production of the subsistence farmers.
“The subsidy programme, particularly the seed input, benefits Monsanto Malawi and the private sector more than the government or the rural farmers like members of the Rural Women Assembly,” Matupi said in her testimony to the Tribunal.
Members of the Rural Women Assembly in Malawi are rural based women whose main activity is subsistence farming on little acreage of land. Despite being subsistence farmers, the women sell some of the maize harvested to supplement their incomes.
“The women are widows taking care of children and orphans. It is through maize and legume production that the women in their local groups contribute maize flour for making porridge for children in community-based child care centres. With reduced maize harvest, the impact of the monopoly of such companies on the subsidy has far reaching consequences on more than just women, who due to lower levels of and lack of access to loans for farm inputs, make the women wholly dependent on the government’s Farm Input Subsidy Programme,” said Matupi.
COWFA has so far only managed to lodge complaints about the ineffectiveness of the seed subsidy programme at local government level and with traditional councils, as they’ve not had the capacity to file a suit at the courts or lobby at national level.
The organisation wants the Malawi government to introduce a universal subsidy programme for fertiliser that will give all smallholder farmers to access cheap fertiliser. This will in turn cut out the middleman who are transporters and agricultural companies procuring fertilisers at a bloated cost.
COWFAR also wants the government to empower smallholder farmers to produce their own seed instead of resorting to buying expensive seed from multinationals like Monsanto and which does not reach the most vulnerable people.