REPORTS from Lundazi about unscrupulous people stealing subsidised fertiliser and seed meant for rural farmers are not new, but they are a source of grave frustration to the Government and the communities these resources are meant to support.
Every year, these sorts of stories do the rounds. In some cases, authorities have acted quickly and taken matters as far as the law allows them. But the thieving continues much of which has been accepted as normal by communities resigned to scam.
At the point where this mischief happens, these resources are no longer in the hands of the Government, which will have done its part in procuring the inputs to meet the calculated needs across the country and ensured that the logistics of timely distribution are in place.
It is when the resources are in the hands of the cooperatives – the organisations set up by local communities to manage the distribution at grassroots level – that the monkey business begins and it is these authorities that must be made to account for the stolen goods.
There is a reason these resources are so attractive to the unscrupulous among cooperative officials. These are massively subsided inputs. For a meagre contribution of K400, the beneficiary gets six bags of fertilisers, a 10kg pack of maize seed, another pack of soya-bean plus groundnuts. They also get some pesticides.
Whole families are known to be on FISP, for years, among them members too young to own any form of ID other than and under-five card. This can happen only with the cooperation of cooperative officials.
Many of these family own no more than a few limas, so it is not too difficult what they get up to with much of the inputs. Hold on to two bags of fertiliser and monetize the result by flogging it for K250 a bag, well below the market price of K380-K400, and they have a cool K1,000.
But there also other less sophisticated ways the inputs get stolen. Villagers who have little understanding of the programme are unlikely to ask too many questions when they are presented with a bag or two, fewer than they have paid for. Many will be just grateful for what they get. And so the scam carries on, season in, season out.
But as President Edgar Lungu has indicated, it is time to rethink the programme. And that starts with a clearing out the corrupt and selfish leadership at some of these cooperatives and weaning of the thousands who have been on FISP for decades while still cultivating the same old one lima.