AGRICULTURE Minister Reuben Phiri says government will not engage local transporters to distribute farming inputs in the 2021/2022 agricultural season because it owes them huge arrears.

Rendering a ministerial statement in Parliament, Wednesday, Phiri said government’s focus was to dismantle the debt before accumulating more arrears.

“Madam Speaker, in addition to the suspension of supplementary packs, allow me to clarify on the non-engagement of transporters in the 2021/2022 agricultural season. As you may be aware, government will not engage local transporters in the districts. This measure has been taken to ensure equity across all aspects of the programme, and to rationalise expenditures under FISP. The government owes transporters huge arrears; and therefore, our immediate focus is to dismantle this debt before accumulating more arrears,” he said.

Phiri said government had decided to suspend the issuance of supplementary packs because they were not sufficient to cater for all beneficiaries on the programme.

“With regard to the optional supplementary packs, each farmer under the direct input supply was previously entitled to redeem one of the following packs: a sorghum pack which includes two by 50kg compound D fertilizer, one by 50kg bag of urea fertilizer and one by 5 kg bag of sorghum seed; or a groundnut pack which includes one by 50kg bag of Compound D fertilizer and one by 20kg bag of groundnut seed; or a soya bean pack, which contains two by 50kg bag of Compound D fertilizer, one by 50kg bag of soya bean seed,” he said.

“Madam Speaker, as government, we have made the decision to suspend the issuance of supplementary packs due to the following reasons: since we have equalised input distribution in all districts of the country and all farmers are now [able] to receive an equal quantity of inputs, the available seed for groundnuts, sorghum and soya beans is not sufficient to cater for all the beneficiaries on the programme; and we have received numerous reports of malpractices and wastage in the distribution of seeds under the supplementary packs. Madam Speaker, let me state that this season’s adjustments to the programme were made to ensure that FISP is equitable, transparent and cost effective. Let me assure the House that next season’s FISP implementation will be comprehensively reviewed to incorporate the views of various stakeholders.”

When asked by Mpika Central member of parliament Francis Kapyanga on how small scale farmers would transport their farming inputs to their areas when they had not been paid after they supplied maize to FRA, Phiri said farmers needed to look for money to transport their inputs.

“All I can say is that we will not provide transport because it was not equitable and we can only ask the farmers to look for some money to transport their inputs,” he said.

When asked by Lufubu member of parliament Wesley Kolala on the irregularities in the Ministry regarding the distribution of inputs, Phiri said erring officers would be dismissed.

“There is a lot of abuse. For all the areas where we are identifying which official is misapplying themselves, we are taking their names down and we will take stern disciplinary action. If we catch up with you and we have all the proof, as happened in some districts yesterday where a district official dumped fertilizer and just ran away. We are going to dismiss these individuals, there will be no negotiations. They will lose their jobs. Because this fertilizer is costing us more than US$ 350 million. We will not allow such a type of waste. If there are DACOs listening, take this as a very stern warning that you will be in problems,” said Phiri.