CATHERINE MUMBA, Lusaka
GOVERNMENT says it regrets the late distribution of farm inputs for the 2016/2017 farming season and has assured farmers of early distribution this year.
Minister of Agriculture Dora Siliya said the delay was caused by the August 2016 general elections and the uncertainties of the subsequent presidential petition.
â€œWe want to assure our farmers this is a thing of the past and we deeply regret the delay of the inputs. We invest in the farmer input support programme (FISP) because the whole country benefits from it and we want our farmers to be productive and to also make money,â€ Ms Siliya said.
She said this when she featured on the Zambia National Broadcasting CorporationÂ (ZNBC)â€™s Sunday Interview television programme.
â€œThe treasury was overwhelmed by the electoral process, which is a constitutional requirement, and all ministries, including the Ministry of Agriculture, did not receive any disbursements until November 2016,â€ Ms Siliya said.
She said ministers only took over government operations towards the end of September, which delayed the whole planning process which was supposed to start in May.
Ms Siliya said the permanent secretary only started identifying banks to make electronic vouchers for farmers in October 2016, while the 50 percent down payment was only received towards the end of November.
â€œThis will not be experienced again because we have learnt our lesson as Government. You may be aware that we are going 100 percent e-voucher in the 2017/2018 farming season and the process of preparing the cards will start as early as possible,â€ she said.
Ms Siliya has also said Government is working on a programme with the Indian Exim Bank to mechanise the agriculture sector through a US$40 million grant.
Ms Siliya said there is need to mechanise agriculture for increased productivity despite FISP working effectively for farmers.
Meanwhile, Ms Siliya says the Zambian government has nothing to do with the maize scandal being investigated by the Malawian government.
She said the Malawian government did not buy the 100,000 metric tonnes of maize from the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) but from individual farmers.
Ms Siliya said the only role the Zambian government played was to issue a permit of clearance, while the Malawian government came and identified a private agent to procure the maize on its behalf.
â€œWe allowed for the export to Malawi because the contract was signed before the ban on exports was effected.
â€œThe contract was signed in June 2016 under a government-government arrangement to help Malawi with the commodity following a drought which only spared Zambia in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC),â€ she said.
She said no corruption was involved as alleged in some sections of society because Government was not at all involved in the procurement process.
CATHERINE MUMBA, Lusaka