Why Farmers and MPs Prefer The E-voucher: The Case for Full Rollout

In 2018, CUTS found that 58% of e-voucher users prefer the e-voucher to the traditional FISP; last week we met with farmers who confirmed that they believe the e-voucher to be the future. Over the next four months, CUTS will explain the benefits of the e-voucher giving a case for the 100% roll out of the programme.

There have been numerous accounts of challenges faced in the implementation of the e-voucher including: late payment of agro-dealers and reduced capacity to stock enough inputs to meet demand, poor network connectivity, long distances covered by farmers to the nearest agro-dealers etc. However, in a survey carried out by Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS), results show that there is widespread acceptance from farmers that despite these challenges, the e-voucher remains a better policy solution than the traditional FISP. The survey reveal that Zambian farmers have a clear preference for improving the delivery of e-voucher and working towards a return to 100% roll out of the programme over a return to traditional FISP (of which the Direct Input Supply is a form).

In a nationally representative survey conducted by CUTS through IPSOS in October 2018 farmers were asked the question “based on what you know, would you say you are satisfied or dissatisfied with the e-voucher programme?” Results showed that around 60 percent of e-voucher users were satisfied and only 36 percent were dissatisfied. These results are significant precisely because they are based on the views of farmers who have direct experience of the benefits of the programme. This polling also refers to experiences of the 100% rollout of e-voucher during the 2017/18 farming season, which experienced numerous challenges in its implementation – when these are fixed, we can expect see a sharp increase in the satisfaction rate.

The survey findings were confirmed in a follow-up meeting held last week and convened by CUTS to review the implementation of the e-voucher in the 2018/19 farming season. At this meeting farmers emphasised the importance of choice over inputs, as the key benefit of the e-voucher, something that is denied under DIS, which is a form of traditional FISP. By empowering farmers in this way, they are able to diversify their produce and increase their income. The e-voucher can thus achieve the long-elusive goal of poverty reduction, as one attendee demonstrated in proclaiming “I am ready to graduate!” Farmers see the e-voucher as the future as 60% chose the programme in response to the question “based on what you know, which system do you prefer – traditional FISP or the e-voucher programme?”

To complement our survey of farmers, CUTS also surveyed Members of Parliament to ascertain their views on the e—voucher. We spoke to 50 Members of Parliament – 18 from the ruling party and 32 from the opposition – and of these 80 percent agreed that the e-voucher programme is the right policy for Zambia but needs to be implemented properly. This shows that there is a broad cross-party recognition that the e-voucher is a better policy than the FISP and that its problems lie with its implementation. When the Members of Parliament were asked “do you support the aim of returning to a 100% e-voucher once implementation issues have been addressed?” over 60 percent of MPs agreed, including more than 70% from PF

Evidence shows that there is overwhelming support from stakeholders that the e-voucher is the best policy option. The ability for farmers to choose inputs appropriate to their own agricultural enterprise has been shown to encourage diversity, can increase productivity and improve poverty reduction.

The e-voucher programme is also key for economic growth. The full roll out of the programme in the 2018/19 farming season saw the direct creation of around 3000 jobs while even more indirect jobs were created. In order to boost agricultural productivity – in line with the 7NDP – it is important that the sector is private sector let in. The e-voucher programme ensures the crowding in of the private sector, allowing them to take up roles from the government. The participation of the private sector in turn reduces government expenditure against the traditional FISP during a period of fiscal consolidation. Research has shown that the e-voucher is a more efficient way of delivering agricultural input subsidies. According to Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute (IAPRI), If the Government continues to support 1 million farmers through the e-voucher system; it would save more than US$30m annually over the traditional FISP. Under the e-voucher these costs are transferred to the private sector.

CUTS polling – supported by farmers’ views expressed during the 2018/19 season review and policy research – demonstrate that there is a broad consensus that the e-voucher is the best programme for the country. Farmers appreciate the choice they are provided with, which allows them to increase their incomes, and decision makers across the party spectrum recognise that the programme can deliver poverty reduction, job creation and reduced government expenditure. The e-voucher is the future: Government must recognise the public mandate and political will to return to 100% rollout this season and make the preparations for its effective delivery now.

By Ishmael Zulu, Consumer Unity and Trust Society (isz@cuts.org)

For further information please contact the Centre Coordinator, Consumer Unity and Trust Society, 298 Ngwerere Road, Roma (lusaka@cuts.org)

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