The country has lost at least K75 million following theft of fertiliser under the government and donor funded Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp), police have confirmed.
The police say 5,900 bags of fertiliser (295 tons) have been stolen from Small Holder Farmers Fertiliser Revolving Fund (SFFRFM) warehouse at Chirimba industrial area, in Blantyre.
Southern Region Police spokesperson Nicholas Gondwa said much as the police arrested Tito Mtileni, 23, and Evance Kaloko, 26, in connection to the theft on Saturday, not even a single bag was recovered.
He said yesterday the two suspects used Admarc documents “commodity transfer” T1/T4/2010, serial number 011856, T1/T4/2011, serial number 022709 and “goods received note” GRN2009 with serial number 30788 to steal the fertiliser.
According to Gondwa, T1 is a commodity transfer voucher which an Admarc depot signs and is given to a transporter of Fisp fertiliser, acknowledging receipt of the goods as recorded on the document.
The two are suspected to have accessed the documents when they were Admarc employees.
“A businessman tipped the police that some two men wanted to sell him fertiliser which they planned to steal from the Fisp programme, and they had planned to meet at Chichiri Shopping Mall in Blantyre.
“We arranged with the businessman that he should go ahead to meet the men at their agreed place and time. We arrested the two just after entering the businessman’s vehicle,” said Gondwa, adding the police recovered the 1 voucher the two used to get fertiliser out of SFFRFM.
With the aid of an auditor from Admarc based in Limbe, Gondwa said the police also recovered another T1 voucher during a search in the suspects’ houses in Bvumbwe, Thyolo.
He further said physical check with SFFRFM and Admarc on the matter also showed that some officials had already suspected foul play in the delivery of the fertiliser as most of the T1 vouchers had the same serial numbers.
“These 5,900 bags were supposed to be delivered to various Admarc depots, but they never did and when we interrogated them they said they sold all the bags to people in Mozambique,” said Gondwa, adding the two were being held at Soche Police.
Efforts to speak to Admarc spokesperson Agness Chikoko yesterday proved futile as she could not pick up her mobile phone on several attempts.
But chairperson of Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture David Luka yesterday bemoaned the theft, saying it would impact negatively on the targeted poor families, which could have benefited from it.
He said much as his committee is also mandated to oversee that the Fisp programme is running smoothly, lack of resources has been hampering it from inspecting the programme to eradicate such practices.
The arrest of the two has brought the number of people arrested in connection to this year’s Fisp to 37, while the number of embezzled bags now stands at 9,929 since January this year.
This year’s subsidy programme has been fraught with challenges ranging from fake coupons, formation of dubious villages to increase the number of beneficiaries to bags containing sand.
Two weeks ago, about 1, 610 bags out of 1, 860 of subsidised 23:21:0 fertiliser that were distributed at Ebombeni Admarc depot in Mzimba had sand while only 250 bags contained fertiliser.
Northern Region Police spokesperson Norah Chimwala said nobody reported to police about the incident, but she said they were working with Admarc and Ministry of Agriculture to establish the truth about the incident.