The Consumer Unit Trust Society (CUTS) has called on government to prioritise paying what it owes to agro-dealers instead of considering taking legal action.
This follows the Ministry of Agriculture’s announcement that it will take legal action against agro-dealers that redeemed farmers’ vouchers in the 2019/2020 farming season without providing inputs.
In a statement made available to the Lusaka Star, CUTS Programme Officer Ishmael Zulu said while the behaviour of some agro-dealers can not be justified, government should focus its efforts on clearing arrears and promptly releasing funds to agro-dealers.
Following several monitoring visits, we discovered that many farmers are traveling long distances and then being forced to sleep in corridors outside agro-dealers’ premises as they wait for their local agro-dealers to receive their money from the government so that they can obtain their inputs,said Mr Zulu.
Mr Zulu also said it was unfortunate that over the past three farming seasons, many agro-dealers have been providing inputs to farmers on credit while awaiting payment from the government.
He alleged that many agro-dealers have not yet been paid their dues.
It is important to note that behind the term ‘agro-dealer’ are people striving to earn a living for their families, and the e-voucher from its inception created jobs and improved livelihoods, but with the subsequent late payment by the government, numerous agro-dealers have been adversely affected,he said.
Mr Zulu further explained that in November 2019, CUTS undertook a trip to Western and Southern provinces to monitor the implementation of the e-voucher programme and found out that farmers were spending nights in corridors because agro-dealers were not able to provide inputs because government had not paid them.
He also noted that many agro-dealers that were interviewed during the monitoring programme had promised to give farmers some inputs based on commitments made by government in the 2019/20 farming season that it would pay them.
According to the Minister of Agriculture Michael Katambo, the government currently owes agro-dealers a staggering K781 million.
Before the onset of the 2019/2020 farming season, the debt stood at K384 million.