CHRISTOPHER CHIPEMBA, Mazabuka
â€œAs a FISP e-voucher registered agro dealer, the cash flow of my business has increased threefold because other products have been added to my line of business, like fertiliser,â€ says Mazabuka based proprietor of Kapoti Agro services Widon Nkhata.
â€œThe volume of the farm inputs we are stocking has increased, creating a challenge of limited storage space. So to overcome this, we have acquired a plot where we are building a 208 square metre warehouse which should provide us with enough storage space for next season,â€ explained Mr Nkhata.
In the policy brief number 53 of 2012, Indaba Agriculture Policy and Research Institute outlined the major problems that have plagued the Farmer Input Support Programme since its inception in 2002.
The paper noted that late delivery of farming inputs, distribution of standardised farm inputs that may not be appropriate for all agro ecological zones or soil types, crowding out of the private sector, poor targeting and high cost to the government treasury as the major challenges facing FISP .
Therefore, in implementing the agriculture reforms announced by the Minister of Agriculture in 2013, the government in the 2015/16 farming season piloted the distribution of farm inputs under FISP on e-voucher system in 13 districts of the country.
One of the reasons is to allay fears from critics that the agro dealers in the rural areas lack the capacity to effectively provide the inputs to farmers.
Kapoti Agro Services, which opened as an agro shop in 2003 is situated in the central business centre of Mazabuka in Southern Province.
Mr Nkhata says his company does not only trade in agricultural products but also provides technical information which farmers can use to increase productivity.
As one of the e-voucher registered agro dealer, Mr Nkhata shares the experience of this 205/16 farming season.
He recalls, â€œWe were trained in 2015 by COMESA/COMRAP in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture on how to stock and transport agriculture commodities under the e-voucher system.
â€œWe also took some lessons on book-keeping which has now been helpful during the implementation. Before the season opened, officials from the Zambia National Farmers Union met all the agro dealers to spell out the conditions that we are supposed to meet under the e-voucher system,â€ Mr Nkhata said.
He explained that the increased number of players that are now on board to distribute inputs has created competition.
â€œAs we know competition breeds efficiency, so all the agro dealers will ensure to have all the required products in stock at all times so that the farmers can pick what is needed at their right time,â€ Mr Nkhata observed.
He said, â€œIt is interesting that we have now seen a situation where a farmer can decide what type of input or seed variety to pick. I was impressed when one farmer, having realised that rains expected will below normal, preferred to get the inputs for the vegetable garden and not for growing maize.
â€œI heard some of the farmers are even contemplating to use the vouchers to buy engines so that they put up irrigation systems. So we can see that the E-voucher system has exposed farmers to a wider range of selecting farming inputs.â€
Mr Nkhata pointed out, â€œIt has now been proved that ghost farmers cannot get farm inputs under the e-voucher because before a farmer is served by us. That farmer should have presented the NRC [national registration card] to the district agriculture officers [DACOs] offices before being given the voucher against which we issue the inputs.â€
Mr Nkhata said as an agro dealer, he takes it upon himself to facilitate the transportation of the inputs for farmers using the local transporters in town, for the areas within the radius of 20 kilometres.
But for distant and difficult-to-access places, the farmers who own trucks in those areas would ferry the inputs at a cost of K14/bag. So, the business to transport inputs also goes to the people in the villages.
Mr Nkata said the government is now not spending anything on transportation and storage of the farming inputs as this is now borne by the agro dealers and farmers. So, the money that is saved can be channeled to other areas of development.
Mr Nkhata noted late depositing of money by the farmers and the delay to activate the cards as the grey areas during the implementation.
He advised that for the next season, arrangements should be done for farmers to deposit as early as July and a method should be devised to have the voucher activated immediately the farmer gets it.
Mr Nkhata said, â€œAnother major challenge is the dual role of the input suppliers. They supply fertiliser to us and at the same time sell directly to farmers.â€
He said this has created unfair competition for the agro dealers as the input suppliers at times cut them out when they distribute to the farmer directly instead of supplying them the commodities.
He appealed to the government that input suppliers should not be authorised to deal as agro dealers , otherwise the situation will get back to the old system were only three big companies in the country were monopolising distribution of fertiliser under FISP.
In order to improve beneficiary targeting, reduce costs and increase private sector participation among other things, the government decided to be distributing farming inputs to small-scale farmers under FISP using the e-voucher system.
During this 2015/2016 season when this system has been piloted in 13 districts, a total of 912 agro dealers have been engaged to distribute the inputs to about one million targeted farmers in the country. However, in the next 2016/17 farming season, the e-voucher system will be rolled out to the rest of the districts in the country because of its immense benefits.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â NAIS