Agriculture Minister Michael Katambo says farmers will benefit from the continued implementation of the e-voucher system in the next farming season as some of its teething challenges have been resolved.

Speaking during the PF Interactive Forum in Lusaka, Wednesday, Katambo said the e-voucher system had numerous challenges, which included agro-dealers conniving with staff from the Ministry to misappropriate funds, among others, but that solutions had been identified to address some of its pressing challenges.

He predicted that the ongoing implementation would benefit farmers in the next farming season, and insisted that despite some of its teething challenges, government had not reverted to the traditional FISP.

Last month, the Ministry had announced the suspension of 40 per cent of the beneficiaries from the e-voucher system by reverting to the old conventional Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) due to the challenges faced in the 2017-2018 farming season.

Government had suspended 40 per cent of the 109 districts where the e-voucher was administered so that authorities could resolve problems facing management of farming inputs under the system.

“The other issue that I need to clarify here is that, when I did announce areas where we identified these problems there was an issue of saying ‘the 40 per cent of farmers will have to revert back to the traditional conventional [FISP].’ No, it’s not that. The 40 per cent figure was derived from farmers that were affected in benefiting from the project. That is where we derive that percentage. Meaning these challenges that these farmers face, they have been ironed out and they have been found with solutions so that this farming season, at least they will be able to benefit on time,” Katambo explained.

“We are saying, we started by 1 June, because government puts in about K1,700, which is a contribution fee by government, and then the targeted beneficiary again contributes about a K400, which comes to about K2,100. The K100 is for the weather insurance index. So meaning in those areas where we identified the problems, in the implementation for the e-voucher, we are saying farmers are supposed to use card-less. And farmers are supposed to deal with the District Agricultural Coordinating Officer (DACO) in those areas where smart Zambia has sent information in various districts with the one million captured farmers reflecting in those areas that in the areas where we are faced with network challenges, the solution is that farmers through their DACOs and the information that they have can identify a true beneficiary on one-on-one, to see that this is a true beneficiary whose is supposed to be given an authority to deposit and then they will go to the bank meaning this has availed a million farmers to financial institutions.”

Katambo pointed out to some of the advantages of the e-voucher system that are benefiting farmers.

“We are saying that the e-voucher also has a good number of advantages, which come with its implementation. It curbed a lot of ghost farmers, those that were benefitting on behalf of others. Cooperatives, or youth groups or women clubs, those executive members, through their leadership, who were getting and benefitting on behalf of the true beneficiary. So, with ZAMIS (Zambia Integrated Management Information System), which falls under the umbrella of Smart Zambia, has put a lot of measures. Issues of biometric where we are faced with challenges of network limitation,” Katambo added.

“All these, so the package is a full-range of what a farmer can choose. There have been instances where agro-dealers are conniving with our Ministry staff, we are saying this information has to be availed to us. And working together with a smart Zambia they will be able to capture what a certain farmer has captured. So, it means at least farmers at the end of a concurrent three farming season there will be window to graduate to give room for another farmer to benefit from the inputs. This means that we created about 20,000 jobs for our youths through this project. And government has saved allot lot through smart Zambia. For us to capture true beneficiaries, government has saved over a K1 billion because there was a lot of malpractice and criminality with its implementation in the last farming season. So, we are positioned as a Ministry; farming is a business. People need to earn an income.”

He added that the e-voucher system has also benefitted several financial institutions and exposed farmers to financial institutions.

“You can see how much it has benefitted our financial institutions, but also engaging our farmers to know they can use their financial institutions,” said Katambo.