IT IS worrisome that way into the rainy season some farmers have not yet accessed inputs through the e-voucher system under the Farmer Input Support Programme.
Revelations by the Minister of Agriculture, Dora Siliya, indicate that as of Monday, December 11, out of the targeted one million farmers, only 400,000 have so far registered and deposited the K400 required to activate the e-voucher card.
It is saddening that one of the contributing factors is the late distribution of e-voucher cards.
Without access to the e-cards, farmers are unable to make the K400 deposit to activate them and subsequently Government is unable to deposit the supplementary funding.
Ms Siliya also noted, and sadly so, that transmission of instructions to bank branches in districts relating to e-voucher system has also been delayed.
She further observed that some farmers still do not understand the technicalities around the e-voucher system.
The way the e-voucher programme has turned out has not impressed Minister of Finance Felix Mutati, who expressed dissatisfaction at the performance of the programme.
Mr Mutati cited the slow pace of distributing and loading money on the e-voucher cards and the slow utilisation of the money Government has already deposited as some of the hiccups observed.
We could not agree more with Mr Mutati’s sentiments on the unsatisfactory performance of the e-voucher. Now that the process is electronic we expect it to be more efficient, not the other way round.
We know that Government meant well by introducing the e-voucher system because of its ability to improve distribution of subsidised inputs to smallholder farmers even in remote areas.
It is also established that besides improving beneficiary targeting and promoting timely access to inputs by increasing private sector participation, the ‘e-voucher’ programme has the potential to accelerate diversification of the smallholder sector by allowing farmers to purchase a wide range of recommended inputs and other requirements.
We are, however, taken aback by people charged with the responsibility to implement the programme.
It is clear that they need to up their game as they are failing in their duties.
In the 2015/2016 farming season the country implemented a pilot e-voucher programme catering for 241,000 farmers across 13 districts in Southern, Lusaka, Central and Copperbelt provinces.
We expected that the pilot programme last season provided enough lessons to smoothen the process this season.
The people on the ground should have taken note of the challenges faced to avoid a repetition of the same.
While we are comforted that the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Finance are working around the clock to ensure that the remaining 600,000 farmers are brought on board, time lost can never be recovered.
The fact that about 600,000 farmers are yet to access the farm inputs should worry every progressive citizen.
This is because if farmers cannot plant their crops on time, harvest is also likely to be adversely affected and subsequently food security too.
Zambia has been talking about making agriculture its economic mainstay to move away from overdependence on copper.
While Government is doing well in terms of policy formulation, we are not satisfied with the level of implementation by some of our technocrats on the ground.
Last year, it took President Edgar Lungu to discover that some farmers had not received inputs midway into the farming season.
Surely should it take the President to supervise works on the ground? There is certainly a missing link somewhere. People need to be held accountable for these lapses.
It cannot be business as usual, otherwise we should forget about dreams to become a regional food basket and to transition to a developed country.
We do not require research to determine that most of our farmers in rural areas have low education levels. To implement such a highly technical programme there is need for rigorous sensitisation to ensure that beneficiaries understand the programme and process.
Where things stand today, it is clear there is need for intensified sensitisation to ensure that all beneficiaries are knowledgeable about the programme.
This is the only way Zambia will have more farmers empowered to contribute to the country’s food basket and subsequently GDP.