Farmers have called on agricultural minister Thoko Didiza to urgently intervene with alleged widespread corruption with vouchers issued as part of billion rand Presidential Employment Stimulus Initiative (PESI).
Earlier, government vowed to blacklist farmers who are trading their PESI vouchers for cash, allegedly because government-appointed vendors have now dramatically upped their prices for agricultural inputs.
Food For Mzansi is inundated with complaints from small-scale farmers who have received the vouchers valued between R1 000 and R9 000.
Across the country, they are alleging that so-called “middlemen” are insisting on a cut of between 25% and 30% of the voucher value.
Limpopo vegetable farmer Pretty Lamola tells Food For Mzansi that he was most grateful to receive a R8 300 voucher from the departement of agriculture, land reform and rural development.
However, he is now faced with Polokwane “middlemen” who are selling inputs at inflated prices.
“I was only able to purchase supplies to the value of R6 225. They took their portion of R2 075. I mean, if I didn’t use it, it would have expired. I really don’t know why the government is doing it this way,” he says.
Lamola finds this rather disappointing because he would have preferred to get the full benefit of the PESI voucher to boost his agricultural enterprise in the wake of Covid-19-induced pressures.
‘Farmer exploitation unacceptable’
When Didiza announced the intervention in December last year, she said the presidential stimulus package for subsistence producers was aimed at sustaining and increasing employment in the agricultural sector.
In excess of 75 000 farmers would have been supported with farming input vouchers in an effort to retain self-employment in the sector, while supporting food value chains.
“This middleman even wanted to take my receipts after I purchased and I refused. When I presented my voucher to him, he verified it and after that he took out his debit card and bought all my supplies for me,” Lamola explains.
Eastern Cape chicken farmer Bonakele Mapingana says his voucher was valued at R2 600 and he was only able to purchase four items.
These, and many similar farmer experiences, have now led to the DA calling for an investigation into the matter. The party says it comes to no surprise that many farmer development programmes fail when malfeasance seems to infect the department’s every initiative.
“One 40kg-bag of broiler starter meal is normally less than R400. I bought two bags and they charged me almost R600 per bag. They charged me almost the same price for two 40kg bags of broiler finisher feed.”
Noko Masipa, DA member on the portfolio committee for agriculture, land reform and rural development, tells Food For Mzansi that many farmers have also reached out to them.
One store in Limpopo, Masipa writes in a media release, even confirmed farmers’ allegations, but stated that there was an arrangement between the department and these “middlemen”.
“It is unacceptable that this programme is exploited. In one example, the feed that should cost farmers R100 is being sold by the middleman at a 300% mark-up for R400, even though it is sourced from the same store,” he says..
It has also come to light that some of these middlemen are asking farmers for a commission, typically around 25%.
Urgent investigation requested
The DA has, however, welcomed Didiza’s earlier confirmation to Food For Mzansi that farmers who are trading their PESI vouchers will be banned from future government support.
Masipa says, “It is unacceptable that this programme is being exploited, and the minister must ensure that those fingered in these corruption allegations are disciplined as a matter of urgency.”
Food For Mzansi has reached out to Didiza’s office regarding the farmers’ allegations. “The department has received these concerns from farmers and we are attending to them,” says her spokesperson, Reggie Ngcobo.
It is not the first time that farmers are complaining about government-appointed suppliers, middlemen and exorbitant mark-ups on the prices of agricultural inputs.
Last year, small-scale and communal farmers who received vouchers as part of the R500 million Covid-19 relief fund suffered a similar fate. At the time, beneficiaries described the process to Food For Mzansi as “harrowing and confusing”.