For most families in urban settings, those enjoying white collar jobs and vibrant businesses, K4,000 could be some change for a quick snack at one of the fancy restaurants.
But for 69 year old Maureen Chipojola from Nyambo Village, Traditional Authority Phambala in Ntcheu District, the amount is enough for a bucket of maize, a bunch of bonya (small fish), a packet of sugar and a packet of salt for her and her two grandchildren to survive for a few days.
Her predicament is that after struggling with piecework and toiling to collect sticks to sell as firewood to earn K7,500 and afford a bag of fertiliser under the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP), a supplier is demanding an extra K4,000 for each bag she wants to buy.
If she tells the fertiliser sellers at nearby markets that are at Ntonda and Manjawira, that she cannot afford the extra fee, she will suffer by standing in line for at least three days waiting for her turn to buy, only to be told the commodity is out of stock.
While she is on queue, village merchants and vendors with extra amounts are buying more than two bags allocated to each beneficiary in the programme.
Chipojola describes her situation as a death sentence. If she will not be able to buy the fertiliser, she knows for a fact that she will not be able to harvest enough to last another year.
Hundreds of miles South East of Nyambo Village is Kwakwala Village, in Group Village Headman Bwanaisa in Phalombe District.
Here not only are community asked to pay extra money to buy fertiliser but they claim over 3,000 beneficiaries in the programme have either not accessed the fertiliser because the system is showing that they had already redeemed the commodity or have only accessed one bag and the other bag is also recorded as already redeemed in the system.
Our investigations have uncovered this is a syndicate between sellers, vendors, some agents, community leaders and agriculture extension workers.
Elias Maloya narrates that when he went to buy fertiliser, he was told that the system was showing that he was not recommended to receive fertiliser; however, he had bought seeds earlier under the programme.
He tried to plead his case that he did not buy anything but the suppliers could not assist him anyhow.
Maloya, however, remembers that before the selling of fertilisers commenced, his village chief and the agriculture extension worker took their national IDs claiming some of the names came out wrong and were to be resent to the government for corrections.
Shadrek Mapira echoes the tale. His experience was that when he went to buy fertiliser there was only one kind in stock, which he bought together with maize seed in anticipation that she would buy the remaining kind when the stocks would be available.
Weeks went by and when he went to buy the last bag of fertiliser, he was told he had already purchased the bag.
The seller showed him the day he bought the bag and from which agent as indicated in the system. To his amusement, on the day he had travelled outside Phalombe.
“I went to the agent and confronted him that I had not bought anything from him. He asked me where I bought my seed and when I mentioned he said there is where the problem was.
“Apparently when I bought the seed, the seller recorded my ID number and went to this agent to redeem whatever was showing in my system so it’s an agreement between them. When we met the seed agent they went inside and discussed. Later they told me to come the following day with K7,500 to collect my bags of fertiliser, I did go and was given the fertilisers without even using my ID,” Mapira said.
District Agriculture Development Officer for Phalombe David Ali conceded that they were aware of the problem and had confronted the suppliers who will make sure the affected farmers are given their fertilisers.
“We are aware of over 400 cases only and we are assured that they will make sure the farmers access the cheap fertiliser. The companies are also not sure about what exactly is happening but they know it is their people on the ground and that is the reason they are willing to re-offer fertilisers to the farmers and deal with their workers later.
“Currently there are two suppliers who are doing this; one is giving back to 40 farmers another is giving back to 84 farmers,” Ali said.
Spokesperson in the Ministry of Agriculture Grecian Lungu was quick to say that the workforce in the ministry is lean and therefore cannot be able to monitor each and every selling point but the people should take the lead in ensuring that such corrupt practices are not tolerated.
“We cannot be everywhere and we cannot know what is happening in all corners of the country but the farmers should take control of what is happening in the markets they are accessing the commodities but also report perpetrators of this vice to the police. Sometimes it is the same farmers that are selling national IDs to the vendors; this must stop,” Lungu said.