SIMON MUNTEMBA writes
THE implementation of electronic voucher farmer input support programme (e-Voucher) during 2017/2018 farming season was a success as it reduced government expenditure associated with procurement, transport and storage of inputs, the Policy Monitoring and Research Centre (PMRC) has said.
And PMRC executive director Bernadette Deka has advised government to formulate exit strategy for the farmers currently on the FISP programme to allow it cater for as many eligible farmers as possible in the future.
Ms Deka told the Lusaka Sun that e-Voucher was fully implemented during the 2017/2018 farming season after a successful pilot of two farming seasons before.
She said there had been notable implementation successes such as reduced government expenditure associated with procurement, transport and storage of inputs.
“The other successes relate to increased private sector participation in input distribution, beneficiary farmers have wide options of agriculture, livestock and fisheries inputs to choose from and an improvement in beneficiary targeting among others successes,” Ms Deka said.
Ms Deka however, said the e-Voucher FISP implementation also faced challenges notably; delays in government funding, complications in deposit capture due to lack of physical presence by some contracted banks in some districts, poor internet connectivity and poor flow of beneficiary information among other challenges.
She said these challenges made stakeholders especially farmers and agro-dealers not to appreciate the e-voucher FISP. She explained that late payments to suppliers under the ‘Direct Supply of Inputs FISP mode’ who in some instances opted to withhold input stocks was one of the challenges that needed urgent attention.
Ms Deka added that late payment and backlog of pending payments to some agro- dealers had affected the cash flow and consequently affected operations with some being forced to suspend operations.
“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,” Ms Deka said.
In the long run, she said, agro-dealers amongst other key stakeholders in the Agriculture Sector will not have so much confidence in the efficacy of the FISP implementation.
She said government should prioritize disbursement of funds with upfront payment to FISP program for stakeholders to have confidence in the system.
She added, “As PMRC we earnestly propose to the Government to re-strategize 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.”
Ms Deka said this would prevent the classical failure of a good government programme due to lapses in funding.
She said 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 needed to focus attention on the state of feeder roads in addition to high-ways that have received considerable attention.
“To ensure effective linkage between the small-holder farmers and markets, Government through the Road Development Agency (RDA) should conduct routine grading of feeder roads most of which are in a very deplorable state especially those in the remotest parts of the country,” she said.
Ms Deka said there was need for government to also prioritize the maintenance of feeder roads to link farmers to the markets to further develop agricultural produce marketing capacity.