Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security has snubbed 403 farmers who have been pushing for a K37 million compensation for their farm produce after a syndicate ripped them off in 2005, Weekend Nationhas learnt.
has learnt that the farmers lostmaize and groundnuts seeds valued at K37 180 800 (about $93 000) to an agriculture association which failed to pay for the produce.
The affected farmers, from Salima, Nkhotakota, Dedza, Ntcheu and Mangochi, operate under the Bwanankhosa Farmers Association whose chairperson Mercy Fidesi was at some point arrested on suspicion that she had received payment and not remitted the same to the rest of the members.
“We want government to compensate us with interest because we are currently failing to provide for our families or grow other crops because we are financially incapacitated,” said Fidesi.
In a letter dated June 11 2013, signed by L.B. Machisa on behalf of Salima district commissioner, the council asked the Ministry of Agriculture to compensate the farmers.
“I write to inform you that three officials from [the association] obtained maize and groundnuts seeds valued at K37 180 800 from Bwanankhosa Farmers Association in 2005 knowingly that Aspam was in fact not buying any seed.
“Three suspects namely Emmanuel Chingota, Frazer Mavuto and Donnie Chilanga [were]released on bail and one suspect, Emmanuel Chingota, died while on bail,” reads the council’s letter.
It adds the remaining two suspects are still at large despite the court convicting them obtaining goods by false pretence contrary to Section 319 of the Penal Code.
“The purpose of this letter therefore is to request your good office to pay money to Bwanankhosa Farmers Association amounting to K37 180 800 in replacement for the money stolen considering that the owners are suffering and judgment was passed and the suspects were found guilty and convicted by the court of law,” reads Machisa’s letter.
However, in a letter dated June 28 2013, Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security snubbed the farmers, saying there was no connection between the loss the farmers had suffered and their request for the ministry to compensate them.
“We therefore wish to advise that while the ministry has noted the loss of the amount in question, we will not be able to assist the farmers,” reads the letter signed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security director of administration Bright Kumwembe on behalf of the ministry’s principal secretary Jeffrey Luhanga.
The farmers are, however, insisting that the ministry should compensate them claiming government also compensated them when a similar incident occurred around 1999 after some unscrupulous traders had ripped off farmers across the country.
Said Fidesi:”I am one of the people who got the compensation from government. I was paid K200 000 (about $500) for the produce which I had lost.”
Asked whether the ministry has other options on the table with which to assist the farmers, Agriculture Ministry spokesperson Sarah Tione on Thursday only said: “Please note that the letter from the Director of Administration Mr. B. Kumwembe was the official response from the ministry.”
Balaka first grade magistrate Damson Banda’s judgment delivered on February 8 2013 said his hands were tied on how to proceed with the sentencing of the convicts in the absence of the accused.
Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet) executive director TamaniNkhono-Mvula said on Thursdaygovernment has moral obligation to ensure that the farmers are compensated.
Nkhono-Mvula said many farmers are experiencing the same suffering across the country although, he said, government has helped to lessen the problem by setting of minimum prices.
“Government needs to come up with proper mechanisms that minimum prices are enforced and should finalise the contract farming strategy and regulations that will give stiff penalties to unscrupulous traders who are defrauding farmers of their produce,” said Nkhono-Mvula.