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Farmers’ frustration with PESI vouchers intensifies

Barely a week since the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) Thoko Didiza promised to clamp down on those who were selling the Presidential Employment Stimulus Initiative (PESI) vouchers for cash, more farmers are coming forward.

PESI was announced on 10 December 2020 with pomp and fanfare aimed at subsistence farmers including households farming in back yards and food gardens in communal areas.

According to Welile Maqungo, a farmer from Nqamakwe town in the Eastern Cape, this intervention by PESI took an unexpected turn.

“It’s been two weeks now after they have redeemed my voucher but I have not received any response from them. Stores say they are experiencing a problem with the department of agriculture when it comes to payment.”

Maqungo currently employees five workers and specializes in spinach and cabbage, supplying two local supermarkets namely Ngumbela Fruit and Vegetables and Spar in Idutywa. He was worried that the PESI program was ill considered as a lot of middlemen lacked agricultural experience.

“I have an awful experience with this supplier…it is really embarrassing to say the least. They don’t even know where to procure some of the basics we require. Why did the government give us these funds directly?” a frustrated Maqungo asked.

According to the DALRRD, beneficiaries had to apply via cellphones using departmental USSD code *134*4536#, which upon application, farmers would receive an application form.

Zandie Zitumane a poultry farmer from Butterworth, also in the Eastern Cape concurred on the turnaround time given by the department’s suppliers.

“My major problem was with the turnaround time. The supplier took my voucher and redeemed it but I only received my feed three weeks later and that resulted in me having to spend my own money in between,” she said.

DALRRD had announced that during the implementation of this program that it will enlist unemployed agricultural graduates and National Rural Youth Service Corps to act as verification officers. The Eastern Cape Farmers Poultry Association called for the Minister to urgently conduct an audit and also to scrap the process of using middlemen.

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