BY LUNGA MASUKU
OCTOBER 8, 2022
Mbabane -An under-financed Ministry of Agriculture will surely result in the starvation of the people of the Kingdom of eSwatini, formerly Swaziland to death.
This comes about after the ministry responsible for food security has since announced the stoppage of accepting the E4900 deposits from farmers in as far as the farm inputs subsidy programme is concerned. The announcement was made by Principal Secretary Sydney Simelane during an interview with the state broadcaster EBIS on its current affairs programme, Letishisako early this week.
The Kingdom of Swaziland had signed or made a commitment that the country would abide by the Malabo Declaration, which was an attempt to encourage African states under the banner of the African Union to strive for food security so that the continent does not find itself at the mercy of world donors. It was agreed that every member state of the AU would dedicate 10 per cent of their national budget to agriculture.
If truth be told, this country has not made an effort of coming closer to that commitment, every year, the tiny kingdom would complain of limited funds to be committed towards the course.
Going back to the PS’ outbursts, he mentioned that the country had set aside E40 million towards the input subsidy programme but due to the high cost of fertilizers and other inputs, including the many farmers who had applied, the set aside funds had been depleted while on the other hand the same government had announced that the closing date for application or deposits would be the end of October, a date that has not been reached yet. Actually this statement was made with about three weeks remaining before the set date.
“Looking at the success rate or produce by farmers, we felt that farmers were doing a great job in addressing food security, we then decided to increase government’s contribution which stood at E9 100 while each participating farmer would have to fork out E4 900.
“We used a different model this time around, immediately a farmer paid his or her share, the government will remit its contribution. There was a massive response from farmers and with their contributions, we found out that the E40 million had been exhausted. It was for this reason that we have been compelled to stop taking new contributions,” Simelane told the state broadcaster.
If the government was abiding by the African Union declaration which was held at Malabo, there would have been such a crisis. According to the Malabo Declaration the country was not going to be in this quagmire it has found itself in if it had fully embraced the Malabo Declaration.
Coordinator of the local chapter of the Eastern and Southern African Farmers Forum (ESAFF), Maswati Dludlu registered his dismay at government’s decision to prematurely stop the input subsidy programme when farmers were still waiting to be paid their funds by the same companies that supported them and purchased their maize produce in the past farming season. Dludlu believes that for the project to work well, government needed to engage small scale farmers in order to get their take about the whole programme.
“This farm input subsidy programme was an AU concept, so the Swaziland government should not pretend to be doing farmers a favour, but it was government’s obligation to ensure that farmers were able to produce enough food as provides the government creates an enabling environment.
“Out of all the African countries, it is only Rwanda that was making an effort of dedicating close to 10 percent of the country’s national budget to agriculture. We are of the view that ever since the input subsidy project began in 2016, it had been riddled with challenges like late delivery of farm inputs, the shortage of working tools and machinery, sometimes the farm inputs would not be delivered on time and now the government has come out to say it had exhausted the funds set aside for the exercise, how is that possible, if I may ask without expecting an answer,” lamented Dludlu.
Dludlu is of the view that E4 900 was too much a figure for the ordinary Swazi farmer to be able to pay within a short space, looking at the economic and social issues people had to endure in the past two years. He says the current set up favours well-off farmers who do not have financial challenges and is not tailor-made for the needy Swazi who lives in rural areas.