M15 million grain project leaves farmers stranded

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Bereng Mpaki

SOME farmers who supplied the government with beans under a M15 million initiative are yet to receive payments months after delivering their grain.

In December, 2020 Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro launched a grain purchasing project after the government set aside M15 million to buy beans and maize from local farmers. The grain was meant to assist vulnerable communities that were hit hard by drought and the Covid-19 pandemic.

A 50 kilogrammes bag of beans was bought at M1150 while 50kg of maize cost M200 under the project. The grain was packaged and donated to vulnerable villagers across the county.

But many farmers who supplied the government with grain this week said they were unhappy about payment delays.

The farmers said they were promised to payments within four weeks of supply but they have been waiting for their payments since January this year.

Apart from farmers, caterers who provided catering services during the procurement process have also not been paid. Some of the caterers this week said they are on the brink of going out of business.

Patlo Ntšinyi, who supplied the government with 60kg of beans, said many farmers like him may not be able to produce again during this incoming summer cropping season if they are not paid timeously.

Mr Ntšinyi from Mafeteng, supplied the government with the beans in April this year is still waiting for his M1300 payment. He said he was aware of many others who are also owed larger amounts.

“After realising that some farmers had been paid, I approached the Mafeteng Disaster Management Authority office where I was told there was no money to pay me,” Mr Ntšinyi said.

“It is sad that many of us will not be able to produce this season as there is no money to buy inputs. I know one farmer who supplied 50 bags of beans, which means he is owed about M57 000.”

Mr Ntšinyi said he was unconvinced that the government does not have money to pay farmers when it recently implemented a M5000 fuel allowance facility for members of parliament.

A Butha-Buthe farmer, who spoke on conditions of anonymity, said he supplied the government with 10 bags of beans in April this year for which he is owed M16 000.

“I have been repeatedly been told that the government has no money. This has left me in a difficult financial situation as my business has stalled since I was unable to plant winter crops because of lack of resources and I am also unable to pay my workers.”

A caterer who spoke to the Lesotho Times this week said she has been waiting payment since May this year.

“When I approached the authorities seeking clarity, they said there was no money and they could not say when I would be paid because the ministry used the funds for other projects. I am now stranded because I had borrowed funds to deliver the service. I don’t know how to settle the debt,” she said.

Contacted for comment, cabinet economic affairs principal secretary Kabelo Lehora, said farmers were still unpaid because the government mistakenly procured more than what was budgeted for.

All the budgeted funding has been used to pay some of the farmers but they have since ministry requested more funding from the Finance Ministry.

Mr Lehora could however not be drawn into revealing how many farmers are still owed as they are yet to “reconcile all the figures from different districts”.

“We sincerely apologise that there are farmers who are yet to get their payments and this was because our budget ran out midway through the payment process.

“We have however, requested more funding from the Finance ministry to settle the remaining accounts,” Mr Lehora said.

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