Agriculture minister Dora Siliya this morning struggled to explain why government has been making empty promises over the distribution of e-voucher cards and farming inputs.
And a Choma district farmer, Joseph Sichoza, says Siliya is fooling farmers by promising that one million beneficiaries will receive e-voucher cards by next week, saying such an undertaking was impossible and would be a miracle to achieve.
During the questions for oral answer session in Parliament today, Katuba UPND member of parliament Patricia Mwashingwele asked Siliya to explain why she had gone back to Parliament for the second time to give farmers a deadline for the activation of e-voucher cards which she knew would not even be met.
“Honourable minister, it’s on the floor of this House for two seasons that you have promised the farmers about e-voucher cards, some farmers have not activated their vouchers for the two seasons and you keep promising unpractical dates. Are you in order to give us a deadline of next week when you know it’s not practical honourable minister?” Mwashingwele asked.
And Siliya who had in her earlier responses indicated that her ministry would start activating e-voucher cards for farmers who had paid their K400 contributions towards the farming inputs, said she was confident that the ministry would beat the target because the country was not going to face the challenges it faced last year.
“Well, since I have been only been minister [of agriculture] for two seasons I couldn’t have promised that just to put that on record. But anyway I think what is important Mr Speaker, is that I have said on the floor of this House that it is true last year we had some problems, now the problems of last year are not the problems of this year. This year the farmers…” Siliya tried to explain.
But just before she could make her point, opposition members of parliament started booing her in disagreement, throwing various disparaging sentiments which forced Speaker of the National Assembly Dr Patrick Matibini to ask Siliya to sit down as he gave guidance to the House.
“Honourable minister please take your sit. Honoruable members, give her chance to explain, if you are not ready to give her time to explain, we are going to move on to the next subject and it’s as simple as that,” said Speaker Matibini as he called Siliya back to the floor.
“Thank you Mr Speaker, last year we did concede that out of the 1.6 million farmers we supported, we have 27 thousand cards that were not activated and that was a fact which we explained. We did say that so far out of the 26,000 cards, we have resolved 8,000 and we are remaining with a balance of 19,019 from last year’s cards, that is a fact and we are not disputing it. One of the problems we have had in terms of reconciling those cards is that the farmers were not holding onto those cards because government was late in giving the money last year,” Siliya said.
“Then there are also some situations where people had lost cards especially where Zanaco Bank is concerned and we have been replacing those cards, that’s what we have been doing. But in terms of distributing these cards this year, the Bank this week begun distributing e-voucher cards and we do not expect a problem. If you come to me a week from today and tell me that there are problems I will understand because I have said that this week we are distributing e-voucher cards and next week we want to start giving money as counterpart funding to those e-voucher cards. So I actually think that we have made the preparations and in time so that we can support your farmers.”
Siliya also told the House that her ministry had already received a K1 billion from the Ministry of Finance to pay farmers and that all the farmers shall be paid their dues by the end of next week.
Meanwhile, a farmer in Choma who attended a gathering where Siliya and President Edgar Lungu addressed farmers, said the minister lied.
“She said government will be giving out subsidies come next week. Now we are looking at a situation where we are already in the rainy season and farmers have not yet started receiving inputs. We are talking about one million farmers and she is saying that within the course of next week, one million farmers will be able to access the E-Voucher system and redeem the inputs,” Sichoza recalled.
“We have seen this before as farmers. We have been promised before. We have only six weeks before the close of the year. Can this be done within the coming week or before the end of the year? We have seen situations where we have been promised and farmers have only accessed their inputs in January, February when the planting window has already passed. We are saying if this is going to happen then it will almost be like a miracle because it has never happened, one million farmers to be given inputs within a week? I think that is just rhetoric and as farmers we are following what she is saying. Yes she has been defending her position and so on but she is now stating a situation which we feel is not possible and she is lying to farmers”
Sichoza further said the minister would next week give the excuse that farmers had not made their deposits for government to provide counter funding.
“Farmers at the moment will tell you that they haven’t been given money by the Food Reserve Agency. There is supposed to be co-funding from farmers which is K400 and from government, K1,700. They are saying that by next week, farmers who will make deposits will receive the counter funding so that they can redeem the e-voucher cards and get their inputs. But government has not released money to FRA so that FRA can pay farmers so that they make deposits. So I can assure you that this is going to be the excuse that the minister of agriculture is going to use. They are going to say farmers have not made the deposits so government can not make the counter funding. She has failed to address farmers plight,” said Sichoza.
“We also asked her why we should continue importing potatoes, pineapples and tomatoes when we have plenty but the excuse she gave was that ‘potatoes can only be grown during a certain period and Zambian farmers do not have capacity to continue growing potatoes during other periods’. Now who needs to create a conducive environment so that small scale farmers, especially can have access to equipment and grow potatoes all year round? By the way we are able to produce enough potatoes as a country given the facilities.”