Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

Africa: Subsidies that work
22 January 2009
AfricaFocus Bulletin

Acknowledgements: FANRPAN acknowledges as the source of this article:

Editor's Note

In the 2008/2009 agricultural season, Malawi is spending $186 million to subsidize fertilizer and seeds for poor farmers, tripling the previous year's figure of $62 million. Malawi's success in this program, against donor advice, has made the country a grain exporter and helped contain food costs. The emerging consensus is that such subsidies are essential for African agriculture. In November the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization rewarded Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika, who also serves as his country's Minister of Agriculture, with the Agricola Prize.

Ironically, donor opposition to agricultural subsidies in Africa was coupled with refusal by rich countries to reduce their own expensive subsidies to commercial farmers in their own countries. Yet the case for subsidies is far more compelling for African smallholder farmers who often lack minimum access to agricultural inputs. In Malawi, the program has more than paid for itself by reducing costs for food imports.

Even supporters of increased subsidies warn, however, that subsidies must also be sustainable, and that other factors must be considered, including the cost of imported inorganic fertilizers and long-term impact on the environment. Scientists who collaborated in a multi-year "International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development" (IAASTD) stressed the need to find and implement more energysustainable forms of agriculture, adapted to different ecological conditions.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains several articles on the food input subsidy program in Malawi and its impact on policy thinking on the continent, as well as links to several additional references.

Another AfricaFocus Bulletin placed on the AfricaFocus website today (but not sent out by e-mail given its length and technical content) contains the Sub-Saharan Africa Summary from the IAASTD meeting last year in South Africa, as well as a statement by civil society organizations released at that meeting).


For more from and about IAASTD see: For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on agricultural issues see

For previous Bulletins with material on Malawi, visit

Top of page   -   Home   -   Disclaimer
Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network
Octoplus Information Solutions