THE Consumer Unit Trust (CUTS) says it is strange that government wants to sue agro-dealers whom it has not paid.
CUTS Programme Officer Ishmael Zulu says the government should not be reactive.
The Ministry of Agriculture has announced that it will take legal action against agro-dealers that redeemed farmers’ vouchers in the 2019/20 farming season without providing inputs.
But Zulu said the behaviour of the PF government was not justified.
He said the government should instead focus its efforts on larger problems facing the farmers.
Zulu said the problem was the accumulation of arrears and late release of funds to agro-dealers.
“While indeed this behaviour is not justified, we urge the government to rather focus their efforts on the larger problem facing farmers which is the accumulation of arrears and late release of funds to agro-dealers. Following several monitoring visits we discovered that many farmers are travelling long distances and then being forced to sleep in corridors outside agro-dealerships as they wait for their local agro-dealers to receive their money from the government so that they can obtain their inputs,” Zulu said.
“Unfortunately, over the past three farming seasons (2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20) many agro-dealerships have been providing inputs to farmers on credit and awaiting payment from the government – much of which has yet to be paid. According to the Minister of Agriculture, Hon Michael Katambo, the government’s debt to agro-dealers currently stands at K781 million, up from K384 million before the onset of the 2019/20 farming season.”
He said the government should know that behind agro-dealers, there are striving families looking to earn a living.
“It is important to note that behind the term “agro-dealer” are people striving to earn a living for their families. The e-voucher in its inception created jobs and improved livelihoods, but with the subsequent late payment by the government numerous agro-dealers have been adversely affected,” noted Zulu.
“In November 2019, CUTS undertook a trip to Western and Southern provinces to monitor the implementation of the e-voucher programme – one of the findings was that farmers were spending nights in corridors because agro-dealers were not able to provide inputs – a problem stemming from the late payments by the government. Many agro-dealers spoken to promised farmers inputs based on commitments made by government in the 2019/20 farming season that agro-dealers would be paid from money ring-fenced from the K400 deposits made by farmers under FISP.”