Chiengi FDD member of parliament Given Katuta has charged that the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) is like slavery because government uses it to continuously exploit peasant farmers and subject them to poverty.

And Katuta says it is hard for members of parliament to conduct any reasonable works in their various constituencies when the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) allocation has continued decreasing.

In an interview shortly after her discussions with farmers from her constituency who were complaining to her over government’s late delivery of inputs, Katuta said the current FISP had perpetuated a slave-like scenario.

“The truth of the matter is that, in our country, we cannot diversify to commercial agriculture when we’ve failed the subsistence farmers. The reason is that the government has not taken much time with the technocrats to see how best they can improve the livelihood of the peasant farmers. The system that we have we have right now is like slavery because it’s these subsistence farmers [who] only produce for the government, and it keeps on making them poorer and poorer. If the inputs are delivered late, how do you expect the production to increase? Definitely, it will be affected by the weather and other stuff and also most of them are now getting discouraged. So, in order for us to diversify from what we depend on right now like minerals to go into agriculture, the government should first start with what [Dr Kenneth] Kaunda used to do. In schools, we used to have what used to be called ‘production periods,’ where each school was required to grow at least coffee or maize. But all that is gone,” Katuta said.

“If we can start from there, it will be like inculcating something in the children and it will make them have that interest of becoming young farmers. But this is not there, what the government is looking at is science and technology. Yes, it’s a good thing, but in that science and technology, the government should also emphasise on farming. People should be taught how to apply the new geochronology in farming. Most of the countries, which have developed: India, the UK, Bangladesh, USA, Canada, China, they had to start with farming. Even Pakistan, sometimes, you would go and buy rice from Pakistan, but why should we import rice? In rural areas like Chiengi, we have proper weather for rice. The government should have taken advantage of such areas and said: ‘in this district, all the students in their curriculum should be doing rice farming and sugar cane.’ Again, they go to another district and do the same. So, each district should at least be able to produce something on commercial basis.”

And Katuta said this year’s CDF allocation to her constituency was too little to bring any meaningful development to the people of Chiengi.

“The CDF we received was a K500,000, which does not make any difference! We are supposed to be getting K1.4 million. Last year, we got K750,000 out of what we are supposed to get initially. With the K1.4 million, at least we could do much, but what we’ve received this time around isn’t making any difference. It’s not enough and it’s just too little to make a difference. Only those who are lucky are getting the full amount. We’ve been looking at buying a grader, we’ve paid a down payment of about K750,000 and we [have a] shortfall of about another K700,000. But it’s most unfortunate that the government has only decided to give us K500,000 and that money, even if we pay the supplier, he won’t release the grader. So, I can’t really say we have benefited from the CDF, yes, we have received, but the money is too little to make a difference,” said Katuta.