Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 20-39)


30 NOVEMBER 2009

  Q20  Keith Hill: What has been your conclusion from that exercise?

  Ms Hines: I am very positive, actually, and people in the villages are as well. The BBC were out there as well, so it was not just me who found this. What we did find and everybody in the village told us is that there is a lot of maize around. As the NAO Report says, there is a little bit of a dispute around the size of the harvest. The official statistic will tell you this year there is a 1.2 million surplus, and whether it is exactly 1.2 million is matter for debate, but what is not a matter for debate within Malawi is the fact that there is a surplus, that the country has gone from five million people on food aid in 2005 to now having a surplus and they are now in the process of exporting maize to Zimbabwe. The turnover is not something which is in debate.

  Q21  Keith Hill: To what extent would you ascribe that serious turnaround to the role of DFID, for example?

  Ms Hines: I like to think we played a part in it.

  Q22  Keith Hill: I bet you would.

  Ms Hines: Yes. As Minouche has said, this programme is something which the government itself very much owns. 90% of the funding for the programme comes from government. DFID's own money is about £5 million a year into this programme. One of the really key things we have done with our money is to help them to roll out improved variety seeds, hybrid seeds, which have a much higher yield. Of the £5 million we provided last year, £3.3 million went on improved seeds. It is both the seeds and the fertiliser.

  Q23  Keith Hill: As a matter of interest, how did you ensure that those improved seeds became available to farmers at the district level, for example?

  Ms Hines: In fact, it goes way below the district level.

  Q24  Keith Hill: How did you do it?

  Ms Hines: It goes down to the village level.

  Q25  Keith Hill: Who does that? Is it the Malawi government that does it or is it the agencies?

  Dr Shafik: It is private.

  Ms Hines: It is a whole range of people who are involved in it. At the village level, there is a village level beneficiary identification committee, which is a very complicated way of saying the village get together and determine for themselves who within the village will benefit most from the programme.

  Q26  Keith Hill: How do they get the money?

  Ms Hines: As I say, 90% of the money is the government's own money. Development partners, including DFID, put their money with the government's money to fund the whole programme.

  Q27  Keith Hill: Who administers that? There is obviously a large element of self-help in this, but who administers it at the local level?

  Ms Hines: At the local level it is done through something called district agricultural development officers who are employees of the ministry of agriculture, who are at the district level, and then there are extension workers below that level who know every village, who work with every village, who go out with the vouchers for the individual families on that list.

  Q28  Keith Hill: How do you know they are doing it?

  Ms Hines: We fund two things. One is a logistics unit, which is a central mechanism which helps to co-ordinate the whole process and gives us a weekly report during the agricultural season, to both us and government.

  Q29  Keith Hill: Gives DFID a weekly report?

  Ms Hines: Yes.

  Q30  Keith Hill: The logistics unit gives DFID a weekly report. I am not being hostile, I am merely trying to get behind this issue of budget support. I almost get the impression now that we might be slightly reverting to the old, rather more direct, hands-on style that aid programmes and UK aid programmes would have implemented historically.

  Dr Shafik: That report of the logistics unit also goes to the government of Malawi. The second thing we do, which Gwen did not get to finish, is that we also fund civil society organisations to go round and check the distribution centres, check at the local level, to make sure that farmers are getting the inputs that they are entitled to.

  Q31  Keith Hill: So we also fund civil society organisations to exert a kind of scrutiny and check on government?

  Dr Shafik: Yes.

  Q32  Keith Hill: They are really our go-betweens at the local level?

  Dr Shafik: That is exactly right.

  Q33  Keith Hill: So we are really a bit more hands-on than the principle of budget support would imply?

  Dr Shafik: Good budget support has that kind of accountability mechanism in it whereby we ask the government to tell us.

  Q34  Keith Hill: Is that something which has developed over time, or was that part of the original concept?

  Dr Shafik: I think it was part of the original concept. Where we have got better over time, and I think the NAO has been helpful in pressing us on this, is in clarifying the targets, clarifying the commitments, measuring them on a regular basis.

  Q35  Keith Hill: Mr Sharpe, I get the sense that you are teetering on the brink of an intervention!

  Mr Sharpe: If I may, I wanted to comment on your point about the number of targets that we did not achieve on time. As a system we have always set stretching targets without the expectation that we would necessarily achieve all of them. Our agreement with the Treasury for this three-year period is that we will try and improve the portfolio quality scores from 72% to 75%, in other words we will achieve about three-quarters of our targets. The NAO are rightly asking us as we do project design to do it a bit differently, to state what would be the threshold level at which this intervention would deliver good value for money, what is the expected level and what would be over-achievement. We need to follow up with what the NAO are suggesting in that regard, and we will do that. We have never set these targets on the assumption that the project will have failed if we have not achieved all of them.

  Q36  Mr Curry: Dr Shafik, helping peasants produce is back in fashion, is it not, in development programmes? It went out of fashion, did it not?

  Dr Shafik: I think that is true. 2008 was a critical year because of the food crisis.

  Q37  Mr Curry: The great price spike, plus climate change, plus the panic of population movements driven by both of them, has led us to be very anxious that very small farmers, subsistence farmers, can stay on the land and produce, has it not?

  Dr Shafik: That is correct.

  Q38  Mr Curry: Britain has rather run down its capacity in this area over the years, has it not? If you look at some of the institutes which used to be involved, like the Natural Resources Institute, they all say they have got much less resource than they used to. Are we hoping to build up our expertise and technologies in this area again?

  Dr Shafik: I think it is a fair criticism that the international donor community neglected agriculture in recent years because there was a strong focus in the Millennium Development Goals on health and education. The food crisis in 2008 was a wake-up call to us and we are redressing that by putting more resources into agriculture.

  Q39  Mr Curry: I am interested in the agricultural side of it. It is quite clear that your programmes in Malawi are based on subsidy.

  Dr Shafik: Yes.

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