An agro-dealer in Chinsali bolted with about 600 beneficiaries’ deposits under the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP), Agriculture Minister Michael Katambo has revealed.

And Katambo says there is no way government will continue engaging criminals masquerading as agro-dealers to supply much-needed inputs going forward.

In an interview with News Diggers! Katambo disclosed that an unscrupulous agro-dealer in Chinsali ran away with about 600 beneficiaries’ deposits under FISP, meaning that the intended beneficiaries failed to redeem their required inputs.

“The distribution [of inputs] is going on very well though we have recorded reports of other agro-dealers once paid, they run away with money, but all these cases have been reported to police. These are prosecutable offences and the law will take its course. But it’s quite sad that agro-dealers, like one example I can cite in Chinsali, that one agro-dealer has run away with about 600 beneficiaries’ deposits, which are huge amounts and this is very sad,” Katambo said.

“So, anyway, the police command within the province and the minister and the PS within the province and our provincial Agriculture Coordinating Officer and our DACO within Chinsali, are on top of issues to see to it that whoever is found wanting will be brought to book. So, this is very sad, farming is about serving farmers on time. So, we are engaging the Treasury and government is very committed that we clear and settle the amounts that are remaining to pay the agro-dealers so that our farmers can completely be serviced and access their inputs.”

Katambo said going forward, government would no longer engage criminal agro-dealers to supply inputs to farmers owing to their shameful and illegal acts.

“There is no way you are going to continue engaging a criminal. Those (agro-dealers) that will be found engaging in criminal activities will definitely be blacklisted. Even in the next farming season or going forward, they can’t be engaged or contracted by the Ministry because they are already a disappointment, they are already a shame! They can’t do what is right for the government, food security is national security. These people that are being…by the government are able to sacrifice and produce even at their household level, [but] if they are being deprived and agro-dealers can even lock up their agro shops because they have run out of stock when they have been paid, it’s quiet sad. This is a two-way traffic; government releases the money, the agro-dealer delays the farmer,” Katambo said.

Responding to issues of ghost farmers, Katambo warned those running the system that removing intended beneficiaries from the system and replacing them with undeserving farmers was equally a prosecutable offence.

“Government under the Zambia Agriculture Management Information System under the umbrella of Smart Zambia has increased the updates on the data. A few beneficiaries have been identified. Of course, we have got reports where you find that a certain number of farmers have been removed, those that are captured who are in the system, which is very sad. These are criminal activities that we are monitoring. So, whoever will be found putting out the actual beneficiaries and putting in the new beneficiaries…these are prosecutable offences. You know the one million targeted beneficiaries are in the data base. That is why you find that in areas where we don’t have the banks or network and others our Agriculture Coordinating Officers are issuing documents called authority deposit and farmers go there to collect. This is to identify a true beneficiary,” said Katambo.