Rural Women’s Assembly (RWA) and African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) jointly hosted a meeting of farmers and civil society organisations (CSOs) in August 2018 to share views and experiences on farm input subsidy programmes (FISPs) and public sector support for agroecology in the region. About 140 participants from Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Mauritius, Lesotho, Swaziland and Ghana attended the workshop. The gathering was part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) People’s Summit, a bigger event of over 800 delegates organised by the Southern African People’s Solidarity Network (SAPSN) to coincide with the SADC Heads of State Summit happening at the same time in Windhoek.

Proceedings highlighted the limits of current FISPs across the region. These include:

  • corruption in the input programmes,
  • political and elite abuse,
  • top-down and authoritarian models of development and input provision,
  • cost and distance limitations to farmer involvement especially for poorer farmers,
  • uneven farmer access to support,
  • late distribution of inputs,
  • lack of storage for seed,
  • an over-emphasis on maize in many programmes and not enough focus on indigenous and farmer varieties,
  • destruction of indigenous seed and knowledge,
  • no soil tests before providing fertiliser,
  • rising food aid despite programme objectives of reducing food imports,
  • ecological problems with genetically modified (GM) and hybrid seeds, synthetic fertiliser and herbicides, and inappropriateness of these inputs to meet farmer needs.

Alternatives proposed by smallholder farmers and CSOs include:

  • Promoting and supporting defined agroecological practices, including seed, soil health, water, pest management, integrated production and agroforestry, local markets, integrating social and economic dimensions;
  • Redirection of public resources from corporate FISPs to supporting agroecology;
  • Building a movement;
  • Building an evidence base for agroecology;
  • Sharing knowledge, experiences and resources; and
  • Local agroecological hubs.