Friday, September 25, 2009

Malawi denies farm subsides to people who don't have voter cards

Malawi has denied farm subsidies to those who do not have voter registration cards. The government claims that it will help prevent fraud in the system. But advocates for the poor and small farmers says it hurt those who need the subsides the most.

From the IPS, writer Claire Ngozo gives us the details.

Gina Champiti, a widowed mother of eight children aged between three and 12 did not register to vote in the May presidential and parliamentary elections. This is going to cost her her livelihood.

Because she does not have a voter identity card, she will no longer be allowed to benefit from the country’s agricultural subsidy.

The fertiliser and seed subsidy programme, introduced in Malawi in 2004, has turned the country into a bread basket for the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The programme focuses on smallholder farmers who cannot afford production needs such as seed and fertiliser at normal market prices.

In the past people who were poor and vulnerable were identified by chiefs and district assemblies to benefit from the subsidy. But most beneficiaries were selling the coupons to the "not-so-poor", who would collect the subsidised products for use in their own gardens.

And now, post election, Andrew Daudi, principal secretary in Malawi's Ministry of Agriculture, announced that the 1.6 million farmers to benefit from this year's subsidy will be only those who registered to vote in the presidential elections this year.

"The decision is discriminatory and will make many people suffer. I do not see a connection between registering for elections and agricultural subsidies," said Champiti, whose eight children are aged between three and 12.

Malawi suffered serious food shortages in 2005, and up to five million people were hungry, but just three years later the country produced a bumper harvest attributed to the agricultural subsidy system.

The beneficiaries of the system receive two coupons – one allowing them to buy seed and the other fertiliser at a subsidised rate. Champiti was one of the 1.2 million farmers who benefited from the subsidy.

Champiti told IPS she was too poor to afford fertiliser. "I couldn’t take time out to go and register. I am always busy working to ensure that my children have food," Champiti said.

Daudi said the decision had been made to make sure the government stamped out the fraud that had rocked the programme in the past four years. "The voter identity cards are backed by appropriate data. The number and the name on the card will be used to verify the intended beneficiary," said Daudi. He said this process would help the government in ensure that the coupon was used by the targeted beneficiary only.

Some civil servants administering the programme would also sell the coupons to people not on the list of beneficiaries. Some politicians – especially those within the government – were abusing the system by acquiring coupons and distributing them to family and friends.

Malawi has no national identity card, so the voter registration card fills the gap, and helps stop the ghost beneficiaries, Daudi says.

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