US expert suggests microbial biomass as alternative to fertilizers

A US professor of tropical soils, Pedro Sanchez, presently with the University of Florida, has strongly suggested to Malawi to use microbial biomass a instead of fertilizers that are being used enormously courtesy of the Affordable Input Programme (AIP).

Last Wednesday Sanchez during held a public lecture at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar), emphasized that microbial biomass was the best alternative to subsidies.

US Scientist Professor Pedro Sanchez

During the lecture that skirted around soil health Sanchez said it wasn’t their principal task as scholars to recommend to government whether to abolish or maintain the [subsidy] policy.

He said: “And we cannot completely scoff at the policy as there been a lot that the program has done. Our big concern however is that government is not supporting the microbial biomass which is critical program to replenish nutrients in the soil.

“But again its worthy zero if the farmers don’t use the knowledge from extension programs in universities thus why there has to be so much emphasis on extension for the knowledge to trickle down to the farmers.”

Malawi government, under the Tonse administration, is implementing the Affordable Input Program (AIP) which replaced the Farm Input Subsidy Program (Fisp).

However, many agriculture experts continue to criticise the program, describing it as consumptive in nature and not an investment initiative.

Critics further rebuke Capital Hill for allocating a huge chunk from the agriculture budget to the subsidy program at the expense of other high impact areas within the agriculture sector such as extension, research and development as well as livestock and fisheries.

In the 2021/22 National Budget, government has allocated K142 billion towards AIP of the total K284 agriculture budget, representing 50 percent allocation towards subsidy alone.

Sanchez further advised Capital Hill to do more in promoting economic growth of the country by enhancing production in agriculture, while also imploring government to increase attention to agriculture extension as a way of building evidence based policy.

While admitting that there has been “agriculture policy erosion” in the country, both Sanchez and Luanar Vice chancellor Agness Mangwela said the AIP is not necessarily a bad policy, stressing that the program has helped a lot in ensuring that the country is food secure.However, the two called for policy alternative that is sustainable.

On his part, Professor Richard Mkandawire of Mwapata Policy Institute,who is also the board chair of the National Planning Commission (NPC) commended Sanchez for the insightful policy advices to Malawi government, and assured that the advices are very key and worthy considering for policy analysis.

He promised to take the issues to the government for consideration.

During the debate most Luanar students observed that the subsidy issue has been debated and discussed for long and documents have been written about it but noted that there is lack of political will to transform the program.

Intensive agriculture activities of smallholder farming systems are said to be behind the declining soil nutrients status.

The soil microbial biomass is a small but dynamic fraction of soil organic matter which is an agent of change in soil, being responsible for most of the soil transformations.

It helps decompose plant and animal residues and soil organic matter to release carbon dioxide and implant available nutrients.

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