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November 20, 2008

Malawi triples subsidies on farming inputs

Malawi, one of Africa's poorest nations, has more than tripled its spending on subsidies this year to help 1.7m impoverished farm families buy fertilizer, agriculture authorities said in late October.

The southern African nation has spent $183m to offer the country's poorest farmers a nearly 90% discount on fertililzer, said deputy agriculture minister Frank Mwenifumbo..

"We have spent 26 billion kwacha to procure 170 000 tonnes of fertiliser. We are targetting 1.7m of the poorest of the poor farming families to benefit from this programme," Mwenifumbo said.

The same programme cost about $50m last year, but authorities fear that without the subsidy, farmers might not be able to produce enough food to guarantee the nation's food supply.

"The subsidy programme is wholly funded by the Malawi government as a deliberate policy to improve hosehold food security," Mwenifumbo said.

Beneficiaries will receive 10 kilogrammes of free maize seed and pay eight dollars for 50 kilos of fertiliser, which would cost $72 at market rates.

That puts fertiliser far out of reach for the majority of Malawians, who live on less than one dollar a day.

Malawi needs 2.2 million tonnes of its staple grand maize to feed its 13 million people each year, but its crops have only produced that much since 2006 - the year after the subsidy programme began.

Before that, shortfalls in local crops meant that chronic hunger was a normal part of life here.

But last year Malawi produced enough to sell about 400 /000 tonnes to troubled Zimbabwe.


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