Govt suspends e-voucher system

Zambian farmer Inonge Mubanga Samboko
THE Government has suspended the implementation of the e-voucher system that was supposed to be used for small-scale farmers in accessing subsidised inputs under the Farmer Inputs Support Programme (FISP) due to inadequate logistics.

Agriculture and Livestock Minister Bob Sichinga said the e-voucher, an electronic system, which was set to be piloted in 10 districts this year, needed proper preparations by the Government and private suppliers before being implemented.

The Government had announced last year that it would use the electronic system for distribution of part of the subsidised inputs under the FISP as a pilot programme to replace the current scheme which benefits 900,000 small-scale farmers.

Mr Sichinga said this during the launch of the ZNFU Lima scheme in Kabwe on Wednesday.

About 241,000 out of the 900,000 under the FISP were expected to be covered by the electronic system before rolling out the programme to the whole country.

The e-voucher system requires that private agro business houses have electronic register of the 241,000 farmers as well as electronic voucher, while farmers needed to have either a phone or a computer.

It also required the Ministry of Agriculture to create a redemption fund which would be recovered by the private suppliers once the farmers acquired the inputs in their respective districts.

“I have a computer background and when I looked at what had been prepared, I was not satisfied that we had a register of the 241,000 farmers; I was not satisfied that each of the targeted districts had telephone communication to send messages.

“I was also not satisfied that there was sufficient capacity to reach all the 241,000 farmers and because of this, it was not possible to implement the e-voucher system because even the ministry did not even have computers,” Mr Sichinga said.

Mr Sichinga apart from the necessary logistics the electronic system would have required that all stakeholders involved including the private suppliers be trained on how to handle the programme.

He, however, assured that his ministry was keen to implement the electronic system once all the necessary logistics and training had been done.

The minister was also at pains to explain the prolonged delay by the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) in paying farmers that had delivered their maize in the crop marketing season.

This followed ZNFU president Jervis Zimba and Chisamba District Commissioner Ferdinand Chipindi’s queries on when the farmers would be paid for their maize to enable them buy inputs for the 2013/14 farming season.

Mr Sichinga noted that the government had been overstretched because other pressing needs but assured that every farmer would be paid by the end of this month.

Earlier, Zanaco senior relations manager, Edwin Mulenga said the bank believed that the agricultural sector had the greatest potential to provide wholesale employment and subsequent wealth creation to many Zambians.

“Not only on farms but in the resurgent Agri-processing subsector which has potential to drive Zambia’s non-traditional exports value upwards,” said Mr Mulenga who represented the bank’s managing director Martyn Schouten.