Ministry of Agriculture Permanent Secretary Julius Shawa says farmers are resilient and they are able to adapt to poor conditions like late delivery of farming inputs.

And Shawa says government is aware that some agro dealers are disadvantaging farmers by marking up prices against their code of conduct.

Meanwhile, E-Government Permanent Secretary Dr Martine Mtonga says one of the challenges with the implementation with the e-voucher system is that most of the people operating it in some areas are not computer literate.

Responding to a question from ZNBC’s Sunday Interview host Grevazio Zulu, who asked if the country was expecting a bad harvest owing to late delivery of inputs, Shawa said he could not say so because farmers were very resilient.

“Let’s wait and see. You know, production of crops is a factor of not just inputs but rainfall, issues of making sure that we control the famous army worms, ensuring that farmers apply good agriculture practices so a combination of those factors will determine what we are going to harvest but let’s wait and see. We still have some months to go before we can say are we food secure or not but look, the farmers are resilient, they can always adapt to the situation,” Shawa said.

He said 784,000 farmers, out of the targeted one million, had received their inputs.

“The status now is that 784,000 farmers have made their contribution and again also, that 784,000, which represents 78 per cent of the targeted one million. We are happy with that figure and those 784,000 farmers have had their K400 contribution as well as the government contribution. Yes, you mentioned last week that the total was 500,000, that has jumped to 784,000. The numbers have increased and farmers are busy colleting inputs. We do acknowledge that some of the districts indeed there have been some delays but overall, the picture is not as bad as one would want to think it is.
This time around as you know, farmers should be applying fertilisers and that is the input that is the input that is very popular which most of the farmers are picking,” he said.

Asked if the agriculture sector had collapsed, Shawa said; “It hasn’t failed Grevazio. I think let me also indicate that in this program, there are various players. Of course the farmer is at the centre, the farmer has to make sure that according to the policy of government, they have to make their contribution of K400, government also is one key stakeholder, we have to make that contribution of the subsidy. There are input suppliers, agro dealers and the national suppliers you have banks to which the government is pushing money for the banks to load on the cards, there has been some slow movement on that score, I must say.”

“Over all, what I am saying is that we have all of those players and each one of those players have to play their part…clearly, we are entering into January tomorrow, farmers have already planted, the rains started in mid November, late November in other areas. But over all, yes, the farmers, whatever initiative they did, those that got the inputs early planted, other farmers of course using their own means, they planted. Now we are at a stage where it is fertiliser application and what we are seeing is that a lot of farmers are picking fertilisers. We also want to ensure that crops that can do [well] at this stage, particularly the beans, you can plant it now up to 10th of January so in the spirit of diversification we are saying it is not just maize. It is too late yes, to plant maize, but farmers can still access the fertiliser which they are doing currently and apply that fertiliser. We are out of the season for planting maize.”

And Shawa said government was aware that some agro dealers were marking up prices beyond acceptable limits.

“Some of the agro dealers indeed, we have heard complaints from certain areas where agro dealers have increased prices so the moment an agro dealer increases a price from say 280 to 300 or above, that reduces the number of bags a farmer can get. Yes, we understand that because of distance, they will add a little transportation mark up but it shouldn’t be such that it disadvantages the farmers. They are not at liberty to increase prices the way they want. We have put a cap, they can add a mark up of K10, K15, but you see the greediness of some of the agro dealers, they will go beyond that,” he said.

Shawa also revealed that government had not yet cleared debt to seed and transport companies which accumulated during the old system of input distribution.

“Agriculture is a complex sector where you have so many factors at play. But let me also mention one critical factor, why we have had some of the challenges especially fro, the financing angle. 2015, 2016 and 2017, we have had issues of debts. Year comes, because of Treasury issues we are unable to, especially when we had conventional FISP, when government was procuring, distributing and making those inputs available at the farmers’ doorstep. We had to enter into contracts. 2015 we have debt, 2016 we have debt, as we speak, we have not cleared the seed companies and the fertiliser companies completely so the issues of money have a lot to do because if you don’t pay your suppliers, they borrow money to bring those inputs in the country, the transporters have to borrow money to make sure that they transport in the old system. If you don’t pay them, where do they get their capital to do their part? So come 2018, we have factored, with the Ministry of Finance to ensure that we can come to zero as far as the debt is concerned,” said Shawa.

Meanwhile, Mtonga, who spearhead the Smart Zambia program, confessed that some of the officials who were operating the e-voucher system were not computer literate enough, causing problems.

“We did some training on how to use the system and we gave out credentials but when the system started operating, agro dealers opened about 3,500 outlets countrywide. But by mid December, the number of outlets that were registered by the system shifted to 5,800 outlets. Now the computer literacy levels of our colleagues in these outlets are a bit lower because the people we trained in October were only 1,300,” Mtonga said.

Shawa, however, revealed that the e-voucher system is able to work in areas with no connectivity at all.

“We have also embedded something interesting in it (the system), we have also done it offline because the country is not fully connected as you know so we have internet challenges in some far flung areas. We have two districts, Lunga and Mitete which totally have got no connectivity and some other districts connectivity is very difficult so in those areas we have put in offline. And I am pleased to tell you that for the offline one, agro dealers who have got a bit of money will redeem the farmers then they go and look for connectivity. When they have found connectivity, our system will immediately catch on and it will roll over and we will see it. As of today, 197,000 farmers have been captured using offline system,” Shawa said.

He assured that all the concerns by farmers had been taken note of and would be worked on.

“We have noted all the concerns because being a new system and being the first time implementing it, there are some bugs which we have identified and immediately, we are going to start looking at those bugs and removing them, and correcting them and making sure that we are ready for the next season,” said Mtonga.