THE failure of the agriculture sector has dire socio-economic or political consequences, especially that it employs over seventy per cent of the labour force in Zambia, says Bernadette Deka Zulu.
Many stakeholders have condemned the e-voucher system following its failure in past farming seasons.
In a statement, ‘Towards the Implementation of a Sustainable, Inclusive and Effective E-voucher Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) in 2019 and beyond’, Zulu, who is executive director of the PF aligned Policy Monitoring and Research Centre (PMRC) said the agriculture sector could not afford to lag behind and fail due to its strategic importance.
“The failure of the agriculture sector has dire consequences, be it socio-economic or political consequences especially that agriculture sector employs over seventy per cent of the labour force in Zambia,” Zulu stated.
She added that the Electronic Voucher Farmer Input Support Programme (e-Voucher/FISP) has a couple of challenges that needed urgent attention inasmuch as over 850,000 farmers had redeemed inputs by the end of 2018 through the direct supply of inputs.
“The following are the challenges: (1) late payments to suppliers under the ‘Direct Supply of Inputs FISP mode’ who in some instances opted to withhold input stocks and, (2) late payment and backlog of pending payments to some agro-dealers which has affected their cash flow and consequently affected operations with some being forced to suspend operations,” she stated.
“The majority of over 5,800 agro dealers are in the Micro, Small Medium Enterprise (MSME) category who do not have enough capital but are made to wait for months to receive payments. If not urgently addressed the aforementioned challenges have the potential risk of putting the entire FISP in danger of failure. In the long run, agro-dealers, amongst other key stakeholders in the agriculture sector, will not have so much confidence in the efficacy of the FISP implementation. As PMRC, we earnestly propose to the government to re-strategise the funding modalities of the FISP and consider upfront complete funding of the entire programme as opposed to the phased funding to assure programme reliability and prompt agro-dealer payment starting with the current farming season. This will prevent the classical failure of a good government programme due to lapses in
Zulu suggested that to further develop agricultural produce marketing capacity in remote areas and increase the volumes of agricultural produce traded and facilitate fair prices leading to better profits and income to smallholder farmers, government needs to focus attention on the state of feeder roads.
Zulu added that to ensure effective linkage between the small-holder farmers and markets, government through the Road Development Agency should conduct routine grading of feeder roads most of which are in very deplorable states, especially those in the remotest parts of the country.
She further stated that the effective implementation of FISP given the favourable rainfall forecast for this season should be anchored on reliable and timely funding and resolving other perennial challenges in the sector.
“This will not only guarantee a bumper harvest to ensure food security but also guarantee peoples’ livelihoods. Effectively, the FRA will be in a position to meet 500,000 metric tonnes of maize crop strategic reserves. The country will also have enough crops to export and do away with the costly export bans and administrative export restrictions that deprived the country of the much-needed foreign exchange,” Zulu stated.
She recommended that government should prioritise disbursement of funds with upfront payment to FISP programme for stakeholders to have confidence in the system.
“The phased funding of FISP is unreliable and should be halted,” stated Zulu.