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This paper examines the micro-politics of Malawi’s Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP) and the roles of agro-dealers as potential anchors or drivers of a ‘uniquely African Green Revolution’. The drive toward the development of a viable network of agro-dealers is a direct consequence of the failure of the liberalization of the agricultural sector to trigger a vibrant private sector-led market. The agro-dealer initiative was introduced to address the question of missing markets for the rural farmer and deal once and for all with the question of pervasive food insecurity in Malawi.
While agro-dealership has tremendous potential to facilitate private sector led agricultural growth and development, the implementation of FISP has substantially altered the operative context for agrodealers. FISP has thrown up considerable challenges that require urgent redress if the agricultural sector is to serve as an engine of sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction. The major finding of this study is that instead of functioning as a ‘smart’ subsidy, with huge potential for kick-starting the development of viable private sector-led agricultural growth, FISP has degenerated into an instrument of patronage at various levels. It has been captured by a network of elites who have appropriated it as a cash cow for rapid wealth accumulation rather than as a medium for broadening farmers’ access to productivity-enhancing inputs and technologies. The elite capture of FISP is primarily due to the institutional arrangements that mean that agro-dealers can only participate in FISP if and only if they have contracts with seed companies.
These challenges can be dealt with by the design and enforcement of a robust policy and institutional framework for agro-dealership. Most of the challenges revealed in this study are linked to the absence or weak enforcement of policy and regulatory frameworks for agro-dealers specifically, and the seed industry in general. There is therefore urgent need to develop and implement a policy and institutional framework for the agrodealership that outlines legitimate practices and expectations. Such efforts, however, are likely to face resistance as a consequence of the expansive rent-seeking opportunities associated with FISP.
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