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March 19, 2012

Zambia to subsidize inputs for 'all cash crops?'

The newly elected Zambian government of President Michael Sata plans to broaden the country's current maize inputs subsidy to other crops.

The Zambia Daily Mail attributed the policy intention to a statement to that effect by Vice President Guy Scott.

In March 2011, the agriculture minister of the previous government of President Rupiah Banda said a total of 180,000 tonnes of various subsidized fertilizers were to be distributed for the 2011/12 cropping season (October-May). In 2010 the government distributed 90,000 tonnes of urea(nitrogen) and 60,000 tonnes of compound 'D' fertilizers.

Zambia's Farmer Input Support Programme was introduced in the early 2000s. As in other countries, it has been dogged by controversy. Meant for poor farmers who cannot afford the costs of the fertilizer, hybrid seeds and pesticides, there have been accusations that well-to-do farmers who are well-connected politically have often had preferential access to the subsidized inputs. It has also been alleged that it has served as a tool of political patronage. There have also been complaints from farmers that apart from cloudy criteria to access the inputs, they are also often availed late into the cropping season, reducing their potential benefits.

While popular with farmers, questions are perennially asked about the long-term ability of poor countries to sustain inputs subsidy programmes. Neighboring Malawi has had to cut back its equally popular and successful inputs subsidy programme as a result of the withdrawal of budgetary support by Western countries over a diplomatic spat over governance issues. Given these issues of cost and sustainability, Zambia would be setting somewhat of a precedent in the region if it went ahead and provided subsidized inputs for 'all cash crops,' as The Zambia Daily Mail reports him as saying.
Nevertheless, the inputs subsidy programme, along with good rains, has led to several years of surpluses of Zambia and the sub-region's main staple crop, maize. Erratic rains for the current season are expected to result in significantly lowered harvests this year.

African Agriculture

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