Defaulting farmers to lose Govt support

CONTRACT farmers who benefited from Government’s agriculture input schemes in the 2020/21 season and have not cleared their debts will not receive support from the State for the coming farming season until they commit to clearing their arrears, a Cabinet Minister said.

Government has also warned that the Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement Dr Anxious Masuka can revoke offer letters to farmers who use them to the detriment of Government’s supported programmes, including failure to settle loans.

Government supports farmers through the National Enhanced Agriculture Productivity Scheme (NEAPS) commonly known as Command Agriculture or Special Agriculture Programme for Import Substitution.

The schemes are financed by financial institutions such as CBZ who are expected to recoup their investments.

The support schemes are meant to ensure that the country achieves food security, reduce imports,  increase employment, improve incomes and livelihoods while increasing agriculture exports.

The country is expected to receive normal to above normal rains in the 2021/22 rainy season.

In a statement, Dr Masuka said despite Government supporting more than 15 000 farmers under the NEAPS scheme and over 2,3 million small-holder farmers, some unscrupulous farmers were involved in side marketing of produce thereby prejudicing the State.

He said Government enacted several Statutory Instruments (SI 247 of 2018, SI 145 of 2019, SI96, SI97 and SI 188 of 2021) to protect contractors, farmers and Government but there are some who are still violating the law.

For instance, S1 145 of 2019 compels farmers to sell their produce only to the Grain Marketing Board.

“Unfortunately, some farmers have ignored these SIs and have gone ahead and side-marketed their crops, prejudicing contractors and jeopardising repayments to banks that funded the NEAPS. The agricultural transformation we seek should not be jeorpadised by these few farmers,” said Dr Masuka.

“NEAPS is backed by a Government guarantee to banks to raise capital to lend to farmers to enhance local agriculture production through concessionary loans. Government has assisted to ensure NEAPS is well funded with the ultimate goal of converting repayments from recoveries from the revolving fund. This allows current and new farmers to continue benefitting from the programme.”

He said unscrupulous farmers have been abusing the NEAPS by taking inputs and misusing them while other farmers are not repaying their debts, even if they have capacity to do so.

Dr Masuka said Government will strengthen contract farming in the 2021/22 farming season to deter side-marketing, non-performance and under-performance.

He said farmers who have cleared their debts will receive their loan advancements while those who have not will not get anything until they commit to clearing their arrears.

“Farmers with outstanding debts will not be enrolled for the 2021/2022 season until they have made an immediate payment of at least 50 percent of the 2020/2021 summer season total loan amount by September 31 2021, made arrangements to pay at least 80 percent of the 2020/21 summer season total loan amounts by November 30 2021, signed a commitment with the asset pledge to pay the programme in full before the onset of the 2021/2022 season.

For the avoidance of doubt, the banks that lend to farmers who have not fulfilled the above, will be liable for any defaults,” he said.

Dr Masuka said any additional measures will be taken and all national payments platforms will be activated to ensure repayments by defaulting farmers, including submission of names to the Financial Clearing Bureau. — chronicle

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