Lusaka, July 16, 2018
On 16 June 2018 the Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) hosted a breakfast meeting at the Radisson Blu hotel to discuss the implementation of the e-voucher in the 2018/19 farming season. This meeting was in light of the recent announcements by the Government to scale back the e-vouchercard system in selected districts.
The meeting was attended by a variety of different key stakeholders including Government offi-cials, civil society organisations, agro-dealers, fertiliser companies, farmers, research institutions, academic institutions and women’s groups.
Ms Chenai Mukumba, CUTS Centre Coordinator, opened the meeting by indicating that the issue pertaining to the e-voucher system affected all stakeholders. She noted that CUTS is an institution that seeks to undertake evidence-based advocacy on issues of importance to the economy. As such, following the remarks by the Minister of Agriculture in Parliament last week that the Government had begun directly procuring seed and fertiliser for distribution to farmers in some districts, she noted that CUTS alongside various stakeholders had seen the urgent need to bring together stakeholders to deliberate on the issue.
Following her remarks, Mr Aukland Kuteya, Indaba Agriculture Policy Research Institute (IAPRI), made a presentation highlighting the benefits that the country had enjoyed during the imple-mentation of the e-vouchercard system. He noted that shifting to the e-voucher system was a significant positive development for the country.
He noted that in the 2017/18 farming season, the agriculture sector had seen increased partici-pation by the private sector, increased farming diversification, as well as a decrease in ghost farmers. He noted, however, that in spite of these successes, the e-vouchercard system had ex-perienced some challenges on the ground. He noted that some farmers had not been able to access their inputs due to a delay in the release of funds, furthermore, not all farmers received sufficient knowledge on the e-vouchersystem therefore some farmers faced difficulties in adapt-ing to it.
Following the presentation from IAPRI, Mr Mwale, FISP National Coordinator, Ministry of Agri-culture, gave an overview of the Government’s decision to address some of the challenges faced by the farmers in the previous farming period. He noted that indeed the concerns that had been raised by IAPRI were concerns the Government was aware of. As such, in order to address these issues, the Government decided to directly procure 40 per cent of the seed and fertiliser for dis-tribution to farmers under the FISP programme in some districts in the 2018/2019 farming season. He indicated that this was a temporary measure up until the issues facing the e-vouchercard system were addressed.
Following his remarks, a number of stakeholders expressed their views. Mr Akabondo Kabechani, Policy Monitoring Research Centre (PMRC) noted that the PMRC’s findings were consistent with IAPRI’s and that the e-vouchercard system was a more efficient way of distributing subsidised agricultural inputs. He added that the e-voucher system had resulted in increased choice for farmers which was contributing in the diversification of the agriculture sector.
Dr Frank Kayula, National Union of Small Scale Farmers of Zambia (NUSFAZ), expressed deep dismay at the Government’s decision to revert back to engage in the purchasing of fertiliser and seed varieties. He noted that as farmers the e-vouchercard system had proved successful and in the areas where there had been some difficulties, the Government ought to have rather priori-tised addressing the issues with the e-vouchercard system rather than reverting to a system that was dependent on government intervention. Mr Daniel Payne, Yara Fertiliser, indicated that the private sector required consistency in the agricultural sector. He noted that the private sector had invested significant amounts of resources into procuring fertiliser therefore any change in policy had direct implications on their participation in the sector.
Mr Isaac Mwaipopo, Centre for Trade Policy Development (CTPD), expressed disappointment with the Ministry of Agriculture. He reiterated that the benefits of the e-vouchercard system were evident to all therefore it was unclear why the Government had decided to scale it back rather than prioritise fixing the system. He stated that the decision to revert back to government procurementwas not a good policy option and that there was a need to rethink the Government’s decision. Ms Susan Chiliala from the Agriculture Alliance opined that this decision to scale back the e-vouchercard system should not have been taken without consultation and that there was a need to ensure that all stakeholders were consulted before Government took such decisions.
Other issues that were raised by the meeting were concerns by agro-dealer, Mr Frank Chola,who said that the Government was itself becoming an agro-dealer. He requested information on how the Government had decided on the selected districts within which they were going to begin to work because not all had networking issues. Other participants also highlighted that the scaling back of the e-vouchercard system and the re-engagement of the government into the purchasing of inputs would place a heavy burden on the Government treasury that is already facing heavy pressure with the nation’s debt crisis.
Stakeholders noted that the Government should have expected that the successful implementa-tion of the e-voucher card system would take longer than a year therefore the Government should not have taken a decision to scale back in the first year as this would slowdown the suc-cessful implementation process.
The meeting was closed by Ms Mukumba who highlighting that indeed civil society must clearly define its role in this process and that meetings such as this were civil societies’ efforts to continue to work closely with the Government to ensure that stakeholders supportthe Government in its efforts to make informed decisions. She concluded by saying a report of the meeting would be compiled and submit to the ministry.
For more information contact: Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS), firstname.lastname@example.org, +260978055293