NDANGWA MWITTAH, Lusaka
SPEAKING at the Caucus of African governors of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in Gaborone Botswana, recently, minister of Finance Felix Mutati said structural reforms in the agriculture sector were key to the economic transformation of the country.
He said that Government had taken a different approach in financing and supporting the sector.
How? You could be wondering.
It has made policy reforms to do away with the ordinary Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) to the electronic voucher system.
What’s even better is that it has been rolled out to all 113 districts from the initial 53.
Mr Mutati said the shift is in line with Government’s commitment to safeguarding expenditure and channelling support to the right people.
“The e-voucher has eliminated a lot of costs. So far, a lot of farmers that were on the programme out of duplication have been eliminated. We are now going to get more beneficiaries,” he said.
The Zambia Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition (CSO-SUN) has in the past called on Government to make reforms in the manner in which the Farmer Input Support Programme is implemented in order to increase its effect on nutrition.
In a joint submission to the Parliamentary Committee on Health, Community Development and Social Services recently, the CSO-SUN) and the Centre for Trade Policy and Dialogue said FISP had failed to address the high levels of malnutrition in Zambia.
CSO-SUN Zambia advocacy and communications manager Eneya Phiri said in addressing the malnutrition crisis, it was important to realise the emphasis placed on the various sources of nutrients in the common diets in Zambia.
He said the role of maize in the promotion of optimal health for the Zambian population is an area of contention.
He said, “The “agriculture policy” in relation to the “FISP debate” in Zambia has been pursued without due consideration to nutrition and development.”
“While the debate focuses on removal of the subsidy to correct market forces, limited attention has been paid to the negative consequences of high maize consumption. In Zambia, there is a heavy reliance on staple consumption with vegetables at the expense of protein and fat intake.”
Well, it has been reformed.
FISP beneficiaries are now obliged to redeem inputs of their choice at approved agro-dealers using a centralised Zambia Integrated Agriculture Management Information System (ZIAMIS) which will be the backbone mechanism for management of the programme.
And the value of the card, K2,100 will have to be apportioned towards the production of any legume of the farmers’ choice. It is not restricted to maize only.
All this is in a bid to foster Government’s policy on agricultural diversification as well as food and nutrition security.
“Households that require support but are not eligible under FISP will be put on either the Food Security Pack (FSP) or social cash transfer,” said Minister of Agriculture Dora Siliya at a media briefing in Lusaka recently.
Ms Siliya said that for the first time in the programme’s history, Government through Mayfair Insurance will also provide weather index insurance.
“K100 from the K2, 100 subsidy will go towards the weather index insurance,” she disclosed.
With the reformed FISP and the clean-up exercise, Government will save over K2 billion.
“This is a cost effective way. This year we are targeting a total of one million beneficiaries as opposed to 1.6 million for last year,” she said.
On distribution of farmer inputs for this year’s planting season, Ms Siliya said seed companies, financial institutions and agro dealers are ready.
“We are ready to roll out the e-voucher system to all 113 districts from the previous 53 districts,” she said.
What’s even better is that a FISP call centre has been set up where everyone ranging from beneficiaries, banks and also suppliers and agro dealers can find all the information that they desire about the new system.
Frank Kayula, director general of the Zambia National Union of Small- Scale Farmers, says his association welcomes the move taken by Government because was an efficient way of managing and supporting farmers.
“We welcome the move. We have always recommended to Government that we need the e-voucher system. What’s even better is that it will be managed by Smart Zambia,” he says.
He says the new system is favourable to the farmer.
“The fact that it offers a farmer a wide choice of products to purchase, is even better. We are really happy as an association,” Dr Kayula.
He however, called on Government to expedite the process of crediting the farmers’ accounts so that the cards could be activated soon.
Under the new system, each benefitting farmer is expected to deposit K400 into accounts to activate the card, while Government will pump in K1, 700.
A total of 1,200 agro dealers have been registered as input suppliers for the 2017/2018 agricultural season. Those that were registered in the 2016/2017 season will also continue to participate in the programme.
Munzuma Estates is one of them.
Gilbert Vlahakis, the executive director says the new e-vouchers were more user-friendly than previous ones.
“The new system has diversity to it, especially with these inconsistent climate change conditions it is critical that farmers see the benefit from this,” he said.
A catalogue of all participating agro dealers and the type of inputs they will stock has been created and introduced on the ZIAMIS platform.
The system has been customised and is deployed by Smart Zambia Institute (SZI) with the technical support of co-operating partners, notably the European Union (EU) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO)
The Ministry of Agricture in conjunction with SZI has identified areas that have limited network coverage. These are 14 districts that have limited mobile phone network connectivity, among them Kalabo, Sikongo, Mitete, Shangombo, Lunga, Luano and Ngabwe.
Others districts are Zambezi, Ikelenge, Chama, Mafinga, Chilubi, Nsama and Kaputa. Farmers in these areas will be required to do offline applications.
“I have been assured that the major suppliers have ordered sufficient stocks of D Compound and Urea fertilisers, the bulk of which is already in the country,” Ms Siliya said.
The minister further said seed companies have indicated that they have stocked sufficient seed quantities for this farming season.