CHRISTINE CHISHA, Kaoma
FARMERS in Kaoma are in limbo. While they want to enrol for the electronic voucher because of the benefits it has for them, they are being dissuaded by reports of satanism.
Evans Mwebela of Mushwala B cooperative is one such farmer and now he is concerned about his 2017/2018 yield.
Though he wants to be placed as a beneficiary for the e-voucher, he is sceptical about going ahead.
The reports emanate from some of his churchmates who purport that enrolling for the e-voucher is registering for the 666, a mark of the beast, according to the Bible.
“Some of our church mates warned us against enrolling for the programme because of the codes that farmers get after registering. According to our church, there is a prophesy in the Bible that in the end times, people will be requested to register for the mark of beast which is 666. And that is the reason we don’t want to enrol,” Mr Mwebela said.
Another farmer, Lilian Kabunda is convinced that enrolling for the e-voucher is evil and demonic. Her conviction against the programme has further been strengthened by the fact that farmers are being requested to submit their mobile numbers.
With such beliefs in circulation, agricultural officials have a hard time making farmers see that the enrolment is for their own good, taking away from Government’s intentions of computerising some services.
Ministry of Agriculture district marketing development officer Howard Halubolya said it is difficult for officers in the district to get farmers to embrace the e-voucher system.
“Despite Kaoma being identified as a pilot project for the e-voucher last year, the project suffered a number of setbacks such as false accusation of being enrolled into Satanism and late delivery of e-voucher cards to late uploading of cash by the banks,” said Mr Halubolya.
Some farmers are wondering why the officers are asking for their number under the promise that they will receive a code. It is this code the farmers are relating to the beast as mentioned in the book of Revelation in the Bible.
It took a number of sensitisation meetings with the farmers to convince them that the enrolment was harmless.
He said so far, out of the 9,547 beneficiaries, only 2,872 farmers by December 19, 2017 had deposited the K400 contribution this season. About 1,087 farmers had their cards uploaded with cash.
The problem to enrol as beneficiaries of the e-voucher is compounded by the late delivery of inputs. Farmers only received their inputs this year in February.
Kaoma is considered the food basket of Western Province and this is a worrying development.
During a meeting with more than 50 farmers from Kalumwange farm block who sought more information on the e-voucher programme, Mr Halubolya explained the benefits of enrolling for the FISP under the e-voucher.
He said the objective of the e-voucher system is to enable farmers to have access to subsidised inputs on time, and encourage farmers to diversify because they can choose from a wide range of inputs.
Mr Halubolya said the e-voucher system is a testimony of government’s commitment to developing the agriculture sector through the use of technology.
The FISP e-voucher was implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) during the 2015/2016 season to enable small-scale farmers electronically access seed and fertilisers distributed by the MoA. The e-voucher consists of input subsidies provided through a pre-paid VISA bank card.
But some farmers like John Lwando see no problem with the e-voucher system.
He deposited K400 in November to access the inputs and he has since received them.
A farmer is required to deposit K400 by a designated bank before they can access the inputs.
“The e-voucher system is very convenient, I don’t need to carry money to an agro dealer. I just carry the card and swipe it. I have received my pack and soon I will be using the inputs,” Mr Lwando said.
He urged his fellow farmers to be careful with which agro dealers they can be access the inputs from.
Mr Halubolya also urged famers to urgently identify agro dealers stocking inputs and window shop before buying the inputs to avoid being exploited.
He said once the money is deposited, farmers are able to access their inputs within a few days.
Kaoma District Commissioner Kennedy Mubanga is happy that there is an improvement this year in the loading of the cash on the e-voucher cards unlike last year when the project suffered a number of setbacks.
“What caused the setback last year was because Kaoma is serviced by only one commercial bank- Finance Bank while the uploading of cash was done by Eco-bank and the bank to bank transactions consumed time,” he said.
Mr Mubanga said it is perhaps for this reason that farmers seem to be unwilling to deposit the K400 farmer contribution this season.
But e-governance Permanent Secretary Martin Mtonga said irregularities that had occurred with banks had been resolved and everyday 10,000 to 15,000 farmers were redeeming their cards after paying the required K400 while 80 per cent of the targeted farmers were expected to be captured by Monday next week.
Dr Mtonga said Government had further engaged two financial institutions that were accessing far flung areas to ensure that farmers in locations without network could pay offline and immediately access farming inputs.
District Agriculture Coordinators (DACO) in various parts of the country have been engaged to sensitise farmers on the e-voucher system.
Despite the setbacks recorded, the implementation of the e-voucher system in the 13 pilot districts in the 2015/2016 helped to reduce Government expenditure on the FISP. It also revealed the existence of about 20,000 ghost farmers who were scrapped off from the beneficiary list.
The e-voucher system has given farmers the freedom to choose what to plant and options of buying livestock and medicines for livestock.