Funding for the Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD) that supports communal farmers with subsidies, has been cut to P400 million from an original budget of P684 million, putting pressure on subsistence agricultural activities in the upcoming cropping season.
ISPAAD is the main agricultural inputs programme introduced in 2008 to support communal farmers.
Each season, ISPAAD provides farmers with various inputs such as seeds, tillage services, fertilisers, herbicides and others in the interests of increasing grain production and promoting food security at household and national level.
Last year, government was due to spend P791 million agricultural support programmes and had planned to spend another P684 million this financial year. Under the NDP 11, which ends in March 2023, a total of P3 billion had been budgeted for agricultural support programmes.
The Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security’s chief agricultural information and public relations officer, Boikhutso Rabasha told BusinessWeek the reduction had been necessitated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on government’s resources.
“For 2020-2021 financial year the budget was reduced to P500 million and further cut to P400 million due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
According to a draft Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan, government plans to overhaul ISPAAD so that support is “progressively availed to increasing the scale of production and commercialisation, with a different and social support approach to subsistence farming”.
Rabasha said the ministry would collaborate with the Food and Agriculture Organisation to review ISPAAD.
Even though the programme has impacted positively on food security and welfare amongst subsistence households, studies have shown that it is not cost effective with the value of crops produced only equivalent to about 51% of public expenditure on land cultivation and seasonal inputs.
Studies have also revealed that due to its use of the tender procurement system and the involvement of government in input distribution to extension areas and farmers, the programme
According to Rabasha, the programme’s budget and expenditure has been increasing over the years, with the highest allocations in 2014-2015 and 2017-2018. “This was due to the increased high uptake of the programme as more people got to know about the programme and also because the rains were very good in those two years,” she explained.
Government says the number of beneficiaries have increased from 31,000 in 2007-2008 to 127,511 in 2013-2014 and 65,511 in 2018-2019. Government had a target of 100,000 prior to the new plans to review the programme.
“Although expenditure is not directly related to the output, the programme has a positive social impact as more farmers have engaged in farming activities,” Rabasha added.
Meanwhile, BusinessWeek is informed that stiff resistance is growing against the plans to review ISPAAD as many stakeholders feel the final version of the programme will not benefit them.
The programme’s lack of a sunset clause had resulted in the entrenchment of political interests, who now believe they may be cut out of the new provisions, BusinessWeek was informed.
Each season, stakeholders involved in rolling out the ISPAAD inputs include tractor dealers, input suppliers and others, while politicians at grassroots level and above are also heavily involved.
The draft Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan says redirected funding for ISPAAD will be replaced by a “different and social support approach” to subsistence farming, although no details have yet been provided.
Analysts believe the words ‘social support approach’ suggest government will seek to help subsistence farmers’ upkeep rather than their agricultural exertions.