Malawi’s subsidised fertilizer smuggled and embezzled

A friend sent me this today and it confirms what I have found in all the villages where we work: Villagers have poor or no maize because of lack of fertilizer. The coupons came late and by then the designater fertilizer was all gone. I suggested maybe it was inefficiency, but have a read!!
afrol News / The Chronicle, 7 February
Malawi’s fertilizer subsidy programme, which was approved by Parliament to benefit Malawi’s subsistence small-scale farmers as well as to mitigate the effects of food insecurity in the country, has turned out to be a lucrative business. Top officials and traders who are purchasing it in bulk at the lower price are smuggling it to Zambia for high profits, ‘The Chronicle’ has learnt.

Malawi has suffered from several years of drought and food insecurity has become chronic. To help boost agricultural production and aid the many rural poor, the Lilongwe government recently decided to strongly subsidise fertilizers. Malawians who obtain their coupons from government now stand in long queues day after day, however with little success of getting the commodity because it is being appropriated by profit-minded individuals, ‘The Chronicle’ has established.

According to inside sources at the Kanengo Small Holder Farmers Fertilizer Revolving Fund of Malawi (SHFFRFM), high profiled people (names withheld) are buying large stocks of fertilizer from the depot and smuggling the agricultural input into Zambia.

“The fertilizer is dispatched from the depots late in the evening or at dawn. Most of the fertilizer is smuggled to Zambia while some is sold right outside the gate at close to 100 percent profit,” said the source, adding that outside the gate a bag of CAN bought at kwacha 1,400 is sold at the price of kwacha 2,800, double the subsidised price while Urea, purchased at kwacha 950 is sold at kwacha 2,000. Malaiwa kwacha 1,000 are about euro 6.40 or US$ 7.70.

“People have to buy it because there is nothing they can do. It is not easy for anyone, except those whose names matter, to buy fertilizer here. So, one by one they drop from the never moving queue and face the profit-hungry traders,” said one groceries vendor who claimed he witnesses the transactions taking place every day.

It is further alleged that last Tuesday, the supply of fertilizer came to the depot late in the afternoon and the waiting queue was told to disperse and return the following day (Wednesday). However, Wednesday morning people were told that the fertilizer was out of stock. “We were told that we could not buy fertilizer yesterday because it was late for them to sell it. We understood this because we saw the fertiliser arrive. This morning they are saying it is out of stock. The question is; when did they sell it?” wondered one old woman, visibly desperate to get the farm input.

The sources said also involved in the racket are some Malawi Defence Force (MDF) staff, who are reportedly purchasing scores of bags, completely bypassing the long queues. The sources added that the soldiers buy the maize on behalf of some individuals upon payment of K500 per bag. “If you came here last week you would have seen it for yourself, how those who challenged the soldiers’ advances got beaten up to a point of bleeding,” the source added.

The highly placed source said the fertilizer had all been booked in advance by high profile people who had already paid for it.

“There is a stack of one hundred bags in there reserved for some ‘Honourable’ man,” said the source, declining to disclose the name of the said Honourable subject in question. “We don’t know the man; we just got the orders to reserve the whole lot for him, whoever it is.” There are also allegations that the officials at the depot demand an extra kwacha 200 to kwacha 500 per bag and that when you get your coupon stamped, you still have to pay kwacha 100 extra per bag to the men at the stores for you to get your purchase.

The SHFFRFM Depot Manager declined to comment on the matter and referred ‘The Chronicle’ to the Operations Manager, Mr Chinguwo, who again referred us to SHFFRFM Supervisor, saying the matter can best be handled by him. The Supervisor, a Mr Milanzi, however, said he was the wrong person to contact because he does not supervise the Kanengo Depot. “I think you are talking to the wrong person. I am in Blantyre and I am responsible for the southern region and not Kanengo. So I cannot comment on what is happening in Kanengo,” said Mr Milanzi in a telephone interview.

MDF publicist Colonel Clement Namangale, however, declined any knowledge of the Army ordering maize in bulk. He suggested it might be a personal purchase. “It is news to me and I don’t have any information about it. If it really happened then it might be an individual that was buying it personally for his farm. Otherwise I have no knowledge about it,” said Mr Namangale.

The fertilizer subsidy programme, mooted by President John Tembo the government-close Malawi Congress Party (MCP), was seen as a means of helping the poor masses obtain affordable farm inputs, was approved by the Lilongwe Parliament as one important mechanism of curbing the acute food shortages being experienced in the country. Malawi has traditionally been able to grow sufficient maize to feed itself, a situation that has changed following several years of persistent drought and crop failure.

By Ziggy Kondwani Magombo

© afrol News / The Chronicle