A consortium of civil society organizations (CSOs) have said the e-voucher system for the disbursement of farming inputs to famers is cheaper for both government and end users.

The CSOs, who asked the government to prioritize financing to the Ministry of Agriculture for the successful roll out of the e-voucher programme, called for real time payments to ease liquidity among farmers.

Speaking at a media briefing, Thursday, Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) executive director Chenai Makumba, who spoke on behalf of other CSOs, said funds needed to be availed to the Ministry of Agriculture in good time.

“The e-voucher presents a rare win-win that offers a better service at a lower cost. This means that the ministry of finance must prioritize and release available funds to the Ministry of Agriculture in time to successfully deliver the e-voucher to the districts that need it the most. Government should work on real time payments; and to ease liquidity, farmer deposits should be ring-fenced to cover initial payments and create time to generate the cash for further payments. This money needs to be prioritised ahead of the more expensive, debt based DIS (Direct Input Supply),” Makumba said.

“One of the biggest hurdles to the full implementation of the e-voucher is that the program’s requirement of pre-financing whereas DIS contracts are traditionally paid for in arrears. Zambia’s growing fiscal pressure emphasises the need to fully commit to the e-voucher particularly in light of governments commitment to fiscal consolidation in he face of high debt levels.”

She added that the use of the private sector had reduced the government’s expenditure on the program by at least 15 per cent.

“By using the private sector to procure, store and deliver inputs, if has created jobs: 23,000 in agro dealerships alone following full roll out in 2017/18. Such private sector growth is even more important in an economic slowdown…In the 2017/18 farming season when the e-voucher programme was rolled out 100 per cent, the Ministry of Finance saved an estimated K300 million. This is particularly important considering the austerity measures government has had to put in place to address unsustainable debt levels,” said Makumba.

“Scaling back the e-voucher during a period of fiscal consolidation would be a step backwards in addressing the country’s key economic challenge: its debt levels….Commitment to the e-voucher would send a clear message to external partners, such as the IMF, that Zambia is willing to make tough decisions and take the necessary action to put the economy back on track.”

The CSOs, who are part of the consortium, include CUTS, National Union for Small Scale Farmers, Oxfam, CTPD, Rural Women Assemblies, Young Emerging Farmers Initiative, Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM), Agriculture Consultative Forum (ACF), CSOSUN, Heifer International Zambia Hivos and CSPR.