The Electronic Voucher system’s failures from the just-ended farming season should be attributed to politicians and top civil servants who are treating it as a ‘cash cow’, says All People’s Congress (APC) president Nason Msoni.

Reflecting on how the e-voucher had performed in the just-ended farming season, Msoni said it was reckless and irresponsible of government to continue preaching about crop diversification from maize when it had not shown commitment through timely delivery of inputs.

An e-voucher uses a mobile delivery and tracking system to distribute subsidized agricultural inputs through agro-dealers/input suppliers to targeted farmers.

Each beneficiary farmer’s e-card is linked to their specific name and National Registration Card (NRC) number.

However, implementation of the e-voucher during its pilot phase has been fraught with structural challenges.

Among them include; farmers having faced difficulties in accessing inputs, with technical difficulties that relate to poor phone signal in rural areas, while others included; ignorance on the part of civil servants responsible to administer its implementation.

Some civil servants had even gone as far as attempting to block the system from taking off, while others spread false information to farmers who grew cold feet in participating.

Last month, ZNFU president, Jervis Zimba, observed that despite government’s good intentions to introduce the e-voucher system to farmers, some civil servants were frustrating government efforts in improving the well-being of farmers by sabotaging the system, hence frustrating farmers.

Msoni alleged that the e-voucher had become a ‘cash cow’ for politicians and top civil servants who were benefiting from something that was not intended for them.

He also condemned the government’s poor services and lack of seriousness in delivery of farming inputs as key reason for all the challenges affecting smooth implementation of the e-voucher during the 2017-2018 farming season.

“This is the danger when a government is ideologically bankrupt. They think of nothing but theft and plunder of resources. Small-scale farmers have taken a swipe at the poor e-voucher system that government introduced. It lacks integrity and it appears that even the players themselves are abusing the systems. The people who are not entitled are the people who have access to inputs,” Msoni told News Diggers! in an interview.

“This is a problem again because lazy people have taken advantage of the e-voucher. Ideally, we think that the root cause of this problem is that some of the people that are appointed to head responsible ministries or those who in the last season were heading these ministries lacked ideas about farming. So, e-voucher has become a cash cow for politicians and top civil servants. The true victims are these men and women who want to make the best out of land, who want to ensure that they are productive; they are able to feed their families. But they are being taken advantage of.”

He observed that the prospects of famine were high due to various complaints from farmers, which he had received.

“The prospects of famine are very high in Zambia; the general complaint from all farmers is that the e-voucher is a mess because it comes at a time when people have already gone through the season. This is the time when you see small queues of people trying to receive inputs. Most people have just kept their inputs for the next season. This is a crisis and it was poor judgment on the part of government that has contributed to the crisis that farmers are going through today. Farming in this country is the last option that people have to survive. So government needs to be serious because so many families rely on a properly structured season where all inputs are delivered on time,” Msoni narrated.

“All the challenges in the agricultural sector can be apportioned to the poor services and the general lack of seriousness. Farming is a sector that is providing employment to our people; farmers do not expect handouts from government. But what they expect is that government should be organised and should respond when it is required to do so.”

Msoni noted that crop diversification was also not realistic in the current climate of delayed delivery of inputs.

“It is in fact reckless and irresponsible for government leaders to stand on the platform and say; ‘diversify the crop.’ Maize farming is not something that someone can try overnight to another crop. This is a process that should run side by side with another process if they are to diversify. You can’t just say overnight and they diversify to another crop. And then at the same time politicians are the biggest problem because when the crop finally is on the market, they come and point at a ridiculous floor price. So this is the most difficult business which has employed the benefit of free market because politicians interfere in the market,” he said.

He argued that government was inflicting poverty on small scale and rural farmers because it dictated the maize purchase price for political reasons.

“These are the most hardworking people; they wake up around 03:00 in the morning going to their fields. But the most hardworking people in this country are the poorest and yet those that sit in the offices and do nothing are the people who are misusing public funds are the people with so much money. It’s difficult because farmers are inconsolable right now, they don’t know who to cry out to,” lamented Msoni.

The e-voucher is being implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture through the Programme Coordinating Office (PCO), which works through the provincial and district structures (PACO and DACO), including Camp Agricultural Committees.

Additionally, the ZNFU remain a critical implementing agency of the e-voucher having participated during the piloting period in collaboration with several banks who are equally involved in the activation of the cards.