Over a hundred delegates from ten Southern African countries gathered in Windhoek, Namibia, to tackle the issues of Farmer Input Subsidy Programmes (FISPs) and government support for agroecology in the region.
The workshop, convened jointly by the Rural Women’s Assembly (RWA) and African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), was part of the SADC People’s Summit, a bigger event of over 800 delegates that is held annually to coincide with the SADC Heads of State Summit.
FISPs involve the provision of improved varieties of seed, fertilisers and pesticides to farmers with the aim of increasing the production of a few staple commercial crops such as maize and soya. The inputs have to be purchased at subsidised costs from either a state or commercial supplier.
Numerous issues emerged from the workshop where small-scale farmers and land activists reported on the challenges they faced with respect to FISP.
Emerging evidence from the region where FISPs are being implemented is that while the programme may help increase production a little, there is no real impact on the quality of life or incomes of farming households. Only a small layer of commercial farmers benefit.
In some instances, FISP displaces many local seed varieties through distribution of hybrids that cannot be recycled. Multinational corporations such as Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta and Yara have been the main beneficiaries, who make billions of US dollars in profit every year.
Basically public resources are used, through the subsidy schemes and farmer outreach campaigns, to provide guaranteed markets to corporations, and subsidised outputs for global grain traders.
Ecological damage also arises through the chemical fertiliser packages that are tailored for a few crop types such as maize, but which are not suitable for other food crops.
Farmers from Malawi reported that the fertilisers supplied killed soil nutrients needed for some crops, but that they were still pushed to apply more fertiliser.
“FISP is meant to increase productivity but is destroying the soil,” a Malawi delegate reported.
“We must encourage agroecology, and the intensification and promotion of crops that do not require fertiliser,” she added.
In Mozambique, the delegate reported that their government was implementing a programme to promote mechanisation for small-, medium- and large-scale farmers, but that small-scale farmers were not benefiting. “The machinery is costly and there is no technical assistance.
The RWA representative from Lesotho argued that FISP promoted corruption since “after voting for subsidies legislators became the first beneficiaries”. She pointed out that FISP also promoted monoculture, focussing on maize production and not on the seeds used by small-scale farmers. This compromised food sovereignty and nutrition.
“Lesotho used to be food secure but since the subsidy programme where they are importing hybrid seed and chemical fertilisers we are experiencing food insecurity. Our country is in crisis facing a food shortage. China now brings food aid.”
A similar warning came from Swaziland, where delegates said that FISP “doesn’t promote indigenous seed and knowledge, only chemicals.”
Other problems that small-scale farmers pointed out were the top-down and authoritarian models of development and input provision; the cost and distance limitations poorer farmers experienced; late distribution of inputs and lack of storage for seed.
Participants identified priority alternatives and areas for diversification of farmer support, including support for agroecological practices, water infrastructure (dams, irrigation), farmer seed selection, seed banks, seed fairs and exchange, farmer study groups on seed, organic fertiliser production, crop/livestock integration, agroforestry, nurseries, and decentralised farmer-based agroecology schools/hubs.