Countrywide audits of the Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agricultural Development (ISPAAD) programme are reportedly uncovering loopholes and practices through which millions of pula are disappearing annually.
By most estimates government spends upwards of P600 million each year on ISPAAD, the main agricultural inputs programme introduced in 2008 to support communal farmers.
Each season, the programme provides farmers with various inputs such as seeds, tillage services, fertilisers, herbicides and others in the interests of increasing grain production and promoting food security at household and national levels.
The inputs are largely provided through grassroots level contractors and suppliers who sign up with the Ministry.
BusinessWeek is informed that the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security has been withholding millions of pula owed to contractors as it finalises its audits around the country.
The audits have uncovered widespread illicit conduct and exploitation of the system. “Already, there are signs of cowboy contractors who are engaged in all types of unethical and even fraudulent behaviour disadvantaging government’s overall objectives in providing this programme,” an insider said.
“In some cases, contractors and farmers are conniving to overstate the hectares tilled, while suppliers are providing expired products including seeds and fertilisers to farmers.”
While the audits are understood to be generally countrywide, they are particularly more intense in the South of the country, insiders say. The previous Agriculture minister, Patrick Ralotsia was outspoken about corruption in the ISPAAD programme which he said was diminishing its effectiveness. “People register, distribute to farmers who are not aware or not existent under the programme for provision of fertilisers. “Fertilisers are being sold as the people think it is not paid for,
“There are some individuals who want to contaminate the system and unfortunately the ministry is losing millions to this scam,” he told BusinessWeek last year.
Meanwhile, contractors and suppliers in the South are fuming, as payments remain outstanding, three months following the official end of the season.
Under ISPAAD, tractor owners can make up to P5, 600 per farmer for tillage of five hectares and P7, 600 each trip for the distribution of inputs such as herbicides per 20 bags.
Each season, successful contractors can rake in close to P1 million and the outstanding payments are a sore point, particularly as many have commitments to their own financiers and suppliers.
In certain areas, contractors and suppliers have become noticeable by their wealth, building large homes and driving flashy vehicles due to the returns from ISPAAD.
Crop production director at the Agriculture ministry, Galeitsewe Ramokapane told BusinessWeek the audits were necessary in running ISPAAD.
“Every programme needs to be monitored and evaluated and that is what we have been doing,” he said.
“We are winding up the payments however, and by the end of this week we should have covered almost all of them if not at least have captured them in the system.” According to the director, besides the audits, payment delays have also been caused by contractors and suppliers stockpiling their claims until the end of the season and also technical difficulties with the IT network used in ISPAAD.