IT is easy to understand Government’s frustrations at the slow pace at which the e-voucher, the subsistence farmer’s passport to a successful season, is being activated.
Under the electronified Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP as it is better known), the e-voucher gives the farmer (typically one working a patch in a rural or peri-urban setting) access to the agricultural inputs needed to make a success of their endeavours on the land.
Without this support, many cannot grow a single stalk of maize or sorghum.
For a contribution of K400, the electronic voucher allows the farmer walk into an agro supplies dealer and collect seed, fertiliser and the chemicals needed to deal with the diseases and pesticides their chosen crop may be susceptible to.
As of this week figures given by the appropriate departments show that over 3,600 farmers had already paid their contribution into their e-voucher accounts but hundreds of them have not yet picked up the hoes.
After a harvest season spent grouching about the poor price offered for the national staple food maize by the Food Reserve Agency and other buyers, no farmer wants to waste the little money they may still have in their wallets and purses on an enterprise they have no guarantee of seeing to its end.
It is not surprising then that the delays in the activation of the e-voucher, first introduced last season, have caused considerable consternation among a large section of the farmers who need this subsidy.
For as Minister of Finance Felix Mutati notes, it is a very short window open to farmers in which they must carry out all the preparations for a successful season; preparing the ground and collecting the needed inputs.
The move by the Government to engage a number of banks and mobile payment solution providers in the e-voucher programme was designed to help erease out all the irritating folds in the system and provide a stress-free arrangement in which inputs were available where and when needed.
For this, the Zambia National Commercial Bank (ZANACO) must be saluted for completing its distribution of 49 000 cards to farmers for the 2017/2018 farming season. This brings 233,000 the number of cards it has distributed since inception of the programme in 2015, nearly a quarter of the government’s target of 1 million farmers it wants to see signed up to the programme.
That is a target that must be attained as soon as possible for the e-voucher opens up immense opportunities for our farmers.
Because it amplifies the choice of inputs for farmers engaged in both crops and livestock rearing, for the enterprising, the e-voucher is more than enough incentive they need to diversity the range of activities they can be involved in beyond the traditional maize.
Under the old FISP, government distributed only seed and fertiliser, but in this ‘e-voucher version’ farmers are at liberty to choose to grow any other crop besides maize. Those in livestock can use the facility to purchase feed while others can get farming implements.
For the banks involved in the programme, there cannot be a better way to reach their own financial inclusion goals. And the figures are encouraging.
During the 2015/2016 farming season, 241,000 farmers across the 13 pilot districts in Southern, Lusaka, Central and Copperbelt Provinces received the input subsidy through pre-paid VISA bank cards.
It is in their interest to make the programme a resounding success.