Sinda agro dealers say government’s delayed payment to activate farming inputs through the electronic voucher system has contributed towards their failure to supply farmers on time.

Speaking during a dialogue meeting between District Commissioner Paradious Sakala and agro dealers in Sinda, Judo Limited company director Justin Tembo explained that the non-payment of monies to them by government had negatively affected their operations.

He, therefore, pleaded with government to pay them one or two invoices, which would enable them to clear outstanding balances owed to farmers.

“Commissioner, we agree with what you have said that the non-provision of inputs to some farmers will affect their crop yield. We wish to bring to your attention that as at now, we don’t have the capacity to clear the outstanding balances as we wait for government to pay us the outstanding balances it has to us,” Tembo said.

He lamented that the non-payment by government to agro dealers had squeezed them too much, adding that they urgently required payment to clear all the farmers that had not received their inputs.

“We have been squeezed too much such that all the juice is gone and only blood is coming out! Our plea is that, is it possible (for you to) advocate for us that we are assisted with one or two invoices that can allow us to clear the balances we have with the farmers, but as at now, we have no extra monies to help us out. Please help us, bwana Commissioner and DACO, as we know that you are the voices and eyes of our government,” Tembo appealed.

He also alleged that during orientation workshops, agro dealers were promised that government would pay them every Tuesday.

But Sakala told Tembo that swiping without a farmer getting the inputs is a clear criminal offence that could lead to a jail sentence.

“A swiping farmer who has not gotten the inputs, it’s a serious criminal case because you are blindfolding government, which will think the actual data shown on the farmers who got the inputs is real when it’s not because of twisted information of the agro dealer. You might take it simple and that is why we are here to help each other so that a farmer gets what belongs to them before it’s too late,” Sakala said.

He also warned agro dealers not to stand in government’s way, adding that government had the capacity to investigate any accusation of fraud through relevant law enforcement agencies.

“Never ever stand in the way of government or try to take government at ransom! Government has all sorts of departments that can come in to ascertain if your accusation is real and genuine. So, it’s not government that has squeezed you, but you have squeezed yourself!” argued Sakala.

Meanwhile, District Agriculture Coordinating Officer (DACO) Henry Mkulumoya urged agro dealers not to use the swiping facility if they lacked the capacity to sustain the electronic input delivery system.

He said that Sinda was at 98 per cent operational performance on the E-voucher system.

During the consultative meeting, it was revealed that the agro dealers who operated the swiping facility in the district, had denied about 448 farmers from receiving their much-needed inputs.

But some agro dealers mentioned that government owed them monies, such as St Frank’s, who have claimed an outstanding amount of K327,000 and MC Sangwani still to be paid K615,000, among others.

According to official records obtained from the DACO, Sinda District has 36 agro dealers operating in the area.

Earlier this month, Agriculture Minister Michael Katambo said that the problem of fraudulent agro dealers had gotten out of control around the country.

Katambo had disclosed that a Chinsali-based agro dealer had bolted with about 600 beneficiaries’ deposits under the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP), meaning that the intended beneficiaries failed to redeem their required inputs.