In a shock announcement on Thursday morning (13 January 2022), the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development said that, until further notice, beneficiaries of the infamous Presidential Employment Stimulus Initiative (PESI) will not be able to redeem their vouchers to purchase inputs and implements.
In a media statement, the department said that it has decided to suspend all PESI implementation with immediate effect until further notice. PESI is specifically aimed at assisting subsistence farmers.
It is unclear how long the suspension will last. Reggie Ngcobo, spokesperson for the department tells Food For Mzansi that “it’s difficult to put a definite date [to it], but it won’t be long, taking into consideration planting seasons”.
The suspension comes on the back of countless complaints from already struggling subsistence farmers that they are being charged exorbitant fees when buying goods with the vouchers.
“It is unfortunate that the department has received endless complaints from the PESI beneficiaries and the South African community at large, regarding various challenges on the PESI implementation.
“These implementation challenges cannot be left unattended, hence the decision by the department to temporarily halt the current implementation,” the department says.
According to Ngcobo, they are reviewing, reengineering and redesigning PESI implementation to address the challenges that farmers are experiencing.
Beneficiaries are advised to check their cell phone messages, as sent by the department from time to time.
A history of problems
Since the beginning of last year, farmers have been inundating the department of agriculture’s offices with complaints. Concerns raised by subsistence farmers include that, on arrival at suppliers to redeem the vouchers, they are directed to the middlemen seated inside or outside the stores.
These middlemen expected farmers to buy the products at a fee of 27% of the value of the voucher in order to earn commission, seemingly as part of an agreement with government. This, despite most commission structures being set at between 5% and 15%.
Food For Mzansi further found reports of input suppliers further arranging with retailers to charge subsistence producers up to 50% more – without rendering any additional service at all as these vouchers are redeemed directly from the retail shops.
In an interview with Food For Mzansi days before the suspension announcement, Ngcobo told the publication that the department was aware of suppliers who continued to charge additional costs towards the redemption of these vouchers.
Ngcobo said all suppliers had provided prices when they entered into contractual agreements with the department and that those are the prices that should rightly be charged.
“The department is attending to the additional costs charged by the suppliers, and it should be noted that not all suppliers apply these additional costs. All misuse of the PESI vouchers should be reported to [the department],” Ngcobo said.
No issues with second phase
On 30 November 2021 applications for a second phase of PESI grants were opened by agriculture minister Thoko Didiza. Subsistence farmers had until 14 December 2021 to apply.
However, applicants, many of whom were first-time applicants, were unsuccessful. Farmers told Food For Mzansi that they would get an error message that said that the department had reached the maximum number of applications required. This message was sent to applicants on the same day the application process opened.
Ngcobo explained that the second call for applications was targeting 50 000 applicants or the closing date of 14 December 2021, “whichever came first”.
“The system then received 50 000 applicants on the same day that it opened, and it had to close. The department intended to re-issue the advert via the USSD but is still working on this.”
After the rollout of the second phase, frustrated farmers who applied but weren’t successful, took to social media to complain that they had been denied by the department’s application system to re-apply.
Ngcobo told Food For Mzansi that all applicants who had applied for the first phase, need not re-apply: those who qualified received their vouchers, which are being redeemed.
He added that there had been no challenges on the rollout of the second phase as the 50 000 applications accepted are being processed in partnership with the provincial departments of agriculture.
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