Speakers and presentations:
Session chair: Jan Low, International Potato Centre (CIP)
Martha S. E. Williams, Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute
Sensory profile and consumer acceptability of fufu produced from bio-fortified cassava roots
Political economy of Malawi’s Farm Input Subsidy Programme and its dietary impact
1Faculty of Public Health & Policy, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
2Department of Economics, SOAS University of London
3Department of Economics, University of Malawi
4Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources
5School of Business, University of Leicester
6College of Medicine and Health, University of Exeter
Although there has been a resurgence of interest in agricultural input subsidy programmes to boost agricultural productivity and food security (1, 2), there is limited evidence on the political economy factors that determine their success, especially in regard to policy implementation and dietary impact. Linder and Peters (1989) synthesised top-down and bottom-up theories of policy implementation to identify several factors that play a role in shaping policy implementation choices and impact. This paper builds on existing qualitative work of a prominent agricultural input subsidy, Malawi’s Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP), to examine implications of the policy implementation for population nutrition.
As part of a larger work programme examining FISP impact on dietary diversity (3), we conducted (2017/18) semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders at national/district levels, and focus group discussions with people from rural communities of two districts of Malawi. The semi-structured interviews (24 in total) were undertaken with: national policymakers from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development; district council respondents from Lilongwe and Phalombe Districts; local non-state actors; and village chiefs in Lilongwe and Phalombe Districts. We recruited individuals for interview initially purposively, and later using a snowballing approach. The focus group discussions (8 in total, 4 with men and 4 with women) were undertaken in Lilonge and Phalombe Districts, and participants were recruited with the support of village chiefs. Interview guides were informed by the Walt & Gilson Policy Triangle framework for understanding policy processes (4), and the domains of Shiffman and Smith considered important for analysing political priorty accorded an issue (5). We analysed data thematically, and iteratively developed an analysis framework. All participants provided informed consent. Ethical approval was provided by Malawi’s National Committee on Research Ethics on Social Sciences and Humanities and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Our interviews and focus group discussions suggest no impact of the FISP on dietary diversity in any significant way, but suggest that this is due to food security characteristics of the population, and FISP policy design and implementation. Even with low prices of maize, people would likely still prioritise maize over diversifying their diets, due to high levels of food insecurity. Issues relating to policy design and implementation that may help explain the limited impact shown include: the targeting of the programme, lack of policy coordination and late distribution of coupons, and the sharing and sale of coupons. Our analysis highlights the fungible nature of the leakage of FISP coupons through sale and through gifting to family and friends. The political economy of this including in regard to patronage and economic inequality make these channels significant. The data also point to the way that on-the-ground decision-making amongst the people targeted by a policy critically influences the impact of the policy. Thus, our analysis also highlights a key component that should be added to the Linder and Peters (1989) synthesis of top-down and bottom-up policy implementation perspectives: the influence of political economy at the grassroots level.
The findings in regard to agricultural policy design, impact, and population characteristics are critically important for consideration by policymakers and other stakeholders seeking to understand how best to improve population nutrition and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. These issues have particular relevance to addressing malnutrition in rural, food-insecure populations of low-income countries.
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