By CHILA NAMAIKO –
THE Ministry of Finance has released K200 million to pay arrears owed to some farmers in various parts of the country by the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) from the total debt of K470 million, Parliament heard yesterday.
Agriculture Minister Dora Siliya said the balance of K270 million would be released next week to enable farmers also enhance preparation for the 2017/2018 farming season.
Ms Siliya said the Ministry of Finance had promised to ensure that the debt owed to FRA was cleared as soon as possible to enable farmers start accessing inputs on time.
“The Ministry of Finance in our discussion this week promised to release another K200 million and finish next week in terms of the debt that we owe farmers because we are very much alive to the fact that some of the farmers do need this money to make their contributions,” she said.
She was confident that with the discussion with the Ministry of Finance, the debt owed through FRA would be dismantled as well as disbursement through electronic-voucher on the remaining about K700 million before the end of this month.
Ms Siliya said this in response to a follow-up question from United Party for National Development (UPND) Kasempa Member of Parliament (MP) Brenda Tambatamba who wanted to know how some farmers were going to pay K400 required to access counterpart funding from Government when FRA owed them.
This was after Ms Siliya responded to questions-for-oral-answer from Patriotic Front (PF) Mkushi South MP Davies Chisopa who wanted to know whether the Government was aware that farmers in his constituency had not yet received farming inputs for 2017/2018 season.
Ms Siliya said the Government had so far released K1 billion out of K1.7 billion for activation of about 600,000 cards as of Thursday.
She said the inputs would be procured through agro-dealers once farmers paid their required K400 contribution to access counterpart funding of K1,700 from respective banks.
The minister said farmers that had already contributed K400 would next week start to access their counterpart funding.
In the case of Mkushi South, the minister said agro-dealers already had 9,515 x 50 kilogramme bags of D-compound, 16,592 x 50 kilogramme bags of
Urea, 3,160 x 10 kilogramme bags of maize seed and 10.2 tonnes of legumes.
She said for farmers that had not paid K400 and were owed by the FRA, Government was committed to release funds to the Agency to enable them access counterpart funding and access their inputs.
Ms Siliya said experts from her ministry had revealed that farmers still had up to the third week of December to plant their maize.
This was in response to UPND Mazabuka MP Garry Nkombo on whether the money being prepared to pay farmers next week was within the time limit to activate cards, collect inputs and plant before the rainy season was in full swing.
On UPND Mumbwa MP Credo Nanjuwa who sought clarity whether the Government was aware delayed distribution of inputs exposed farmers to unscrupulous traders supplying fake fertiliser, Ms Siliya urged the farmers to cautious and deal with recognised agro-dealers.