THE agriculture sector is under threat from reversing the roll out of the e-voucher card system, stakeholders have said.
A joint statement by National Union of Small Scale Farmers, players in the fertiliser industry, agro dealers across the country, the Consumer Unity and Trust Society, the Centre for Trade Policy and Development, and the Civil Society for Poverty Reduction issued yesterday stated that reversing the positive decision to roll out the e-voucher card system even partially was not good for the country.
“Recent government announcements on reversing the roll out of the e-voucher card system to the biometric and cardless systems in selected districts have raised concerns amongst a range of stakeholders. Over several years the government has introduced the e-voucher card system to the benefit of farmers, agro-dealers and public finances ahead of the full roll out for the 2017-18 growing season. Multiple stakeholder evaluations held recently in Lusaka have acknowledged that while the e-voucher cards experienced some teething problems, it was the right policy to support agricultural growth in Zambia,” the stakeholders stated.
“As such, having undertaken consultations with key stakeholders, we, the National Union of Small Scale Farmers, most of the players in the fertiliser industry, agro dealers across the country, the Consumer Unity and Trust Society, the Centre for Trade Policy and Development and the Civil Society for Poverty Reduction are deeply concerned by the decision to scale back the e-voucher card system. We are of the view that the government should first seek to address the teething issues that arose during the last farming season and that before any decision is taken by the government on this issue, it should first engage in an inclusive consultative process with all key stakeholders.”
They stated that evidence indicated that the e-voucher card system offered multiple benefits.
“Firstly, the e-voucher card system is a better policy solution than the alternatives proposed. The government indicated that it has begun directly procuring seed and fertiliser for distribution to farmers in some districts. This engagement will hinder the ability for farmers to choose inputs from agro-traders appropriate to the agricultural enterprise they choose to engage in. It undermines a key benefit of the e-voucher which has been shown to encourage diversity and has huge potential to increase productivity, as such; the e-voucher card system offers Zambia opportunities to boost agriculture in line with the 7NDP (7th National Development Plan),” stakeholders in the agricultural sector stated.
“Secondly, the e-voucher card system is better for the economy. Research from IAPRI estimates the roll out of the e-voucher card will directly create 2,900 jobs among agro-traders alone, with the indirect job creation being potentially much higher. Scaling back the e-voucher card system puts these jobs at risk. This implies that most of the jobs that were created through agro dealing in districts that are earmarked for government engagement will be lost. This move also removes the benefits of crowding in the private sector into agricultural markets in Zambia.”
They stated that the e-voucher was significantly better for public finances.
The stakeholders stated that the e-voucher card system was a more cost-effective way of subsidising agricultural inputs.
“This is because the costs of procuring and distributing seed, fertiliser and other inputs is carried out by the private sector, not government. IAPRI and ZNFU calculations suggest that the cost per farmer for the e-voucher is at least 15 per cent less than traditional FISP (Farmer Input Support Programme) (K1,748 compared to K2,057). If the government continues to support one million farmers, the e-voucher card system would save US$30m annually. If government is to procure and distribute inputs for 40 per cent of farmers, it will significantly increase the cost of the subsidy in the forthcoming season, placing considerable pressure on public finances,” the stakeholders stated.
“Any move to scale back from 100 per cent roll out of the e-voucher card system threatens these benefits and could signal a lack of commitment to modernising the Zambian economy in the eyes of the international markets and donors. Further, the inconsistencies in the scale of implementation is likely to have negative implications on the private sector investments. It is important to remember that the decision to revert to the e-voucher card system was because the system, which involved the government directly procuring seed and fertiliser for distribution to farmers in some districts was flawed. This system has long been associated with corruption and patronage both at national and local levels. Further, previous studies have found that rent seeking and leakages through diversion and resale before reaching the intended beneficiaries is common.”
The stakeholders stated that the case for the e-voucher card system was overwhelming, but that it needed 100 per cent commitment from the government.
“Now is not the time for moving resources away from delivery of the e-voucher card system. The government should instead focus on securing the benefits of the e-voucher by continuing to sensitise famers and agro-dealers on the new e-voucher card system, ensuring the modalities for registering farmers and distributing the e-voucher are in place ahead of the 2018-19 growing season, allocating funds now to the e-voucher cards so [that] payments to farmers can be made on time, ahead of the rains,” they stated.
“We, the National Union of Small Scale Farmers, most of the players in the fertiliser industry, agro dealers across the country, the Consumer Unity and Trust Society, the Centre for Trade Policy and Development and the Civil Society for Poverty Reduction fear that reverting to the biometric and cardless system, even for 40 per cent of farmers, will distract the Ministry of Agriculture from these critical delivery objectives. Bearing in mind the austerity measures that were announced by the Minister of Finance Hon. Margaret Mwanakatwe, MP, to cut down on expenditures, government delivery of 40 per cent of the inputs is already more expensive than the 60 per cent delivery by agro dealers if we take into account the tendering process, transport, storage and handling costs.”
The stakeholders stated that they believed the identified challenges such as late activations, late start as well as connectivity could be worked upon for timely and efficient delivery of inputs through the e-voucher card system in the 2018/2019 growing season.