This book emerges from longstanding concerns we have had about the problems facing poor smallholder farmers in rural economies in Africa, and particularly in Malawi, as with great resourcefulness and resilience they battle with limited and unreliable resources and support to better their livelihoods and the options for their children. A critical focus of our different research activities has been on the roles of markets and governments in supporting poor smallholder farmers: to increase their production and incomes, to ensure affordable food security for themselves and others, and to expand opportunity and choice.
In 2006 we began working together on an evaluation of the Malawi Agricultural Input Subsidy Programme, as it was then known. The programme was attracting international attention, with the New York Times and The Economist publishing hopeful and sceptical articles, respectively. We needed to review past experience with such programmes, understand new thinking and practice, and study different facets of the implementation and impacts of a large, complex, and politically sensitive programme.
Six years later we are still engaged in this task: this book sets out much of what we have learnt so far. We hope it will be useful to policy makers, policy analysts, researchers, and students of agricultural and rural development who are concerned with the problems facing poor smallholder farmers in poor rural economies and considering, planning, or implementing agricultural input subsidies as a possible way of addressing some of these problems. We hope it will also be of value as a source of information on Malawian agriculture, rural livelihoods and agricultural policy.
Many organizations and people have contributed to the work in this book.
The Malawi Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security and the UK Department for International Development in Malawi have over the years given us the opportunity to undertake this work and, with others, engaged with us, asked us challenging questions, and provided both access to critical information about the programme and the resources to study it. We are particularly grateful to the AISP/FISP programme coordinators over the period (Alex Namoana, Idrissa Mwale, and Christine Mtambo), to Charlie Clark and (p.vi) colleagues in the Logistics Unit, to Teddie Nakhumwa and colleagues in DFID, and to David Rohrbach in the World Bank.
We have benefited greatly from working with different colleagues on the 2006/7, 2008/9, and 2010/11 evaluation teams: Duncan Boughton, Massy Chiocha, Valerie Kelly, Thom Jayne, Mirriam Matita, Peter Mvula, Jake Ricker-Gilbert, Rachel Slater, Maxwell Tsoka, and the National Statistical Office and Wadonda Consult field team members. We are also indebted to many farmers’ and other respondents’ sharing of their time and information.
The University of Malawi and SOAS, University of London, gave us time to write while on sabbatical, and our colleagues have then taken on extra responsibilities during our absences.
The Future Agricultures Consortium provided financial support for some specific parts of the work reported here: special thanks are due to Stephen Devereux, Rachel Sabates-Wheeler, Blessings Chinsinga, and John Thompson for their encouragement and insights.
Frank Ellis and Peter Hazell provided critical but encouraging comments on drafts on a very tight schedule—leading to some significant improvements in the text.
Adam Swallow, Aimee Wright, and Jenny Townshend at OUP have encouraged, guided, and helped us as novices through the task of publication.
Many others have in different ways enabled us to write and publish this work. The views expressed and any omissions or errors are, however, our responsibility.
Finally, Ireen and Sam Ling have patiently suffered our pre-occupation with writing (and with the Malawi FISP over a number of years) and encouraged and supported us in taking on this project and seeing it through. Theirs is a very special part of this work.
Ephraim Chirwa and Andrew Dorward