The performance of the FAO voucher scheme as a method of input procurement and distribution in Zambia: A case study of Chongwe and Mazabuka/|cCynthia Makunka

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Makunka, Cynthia
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This study focused on evaluating the performance of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Input Voucher Scheme as a method of agricultural input procurement and distribution in Zambia. Zambia, like most developing countries is dependent on agriculture. Agriculture faces numerous challenges ranging from natural shocks to poor agricultural policies. To revamp agriculture in Zambia, the Government in 2000 introduced a subsidy, then called Fertilizer Support Programme (FSP), which has since changed its name to Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP). According to Mbozi (2009), despite the high investment by government/FISP and Non Governmental Organizations’ subsidy schemes, the increase in agricultural production does not seem to correlate with the cost of programme investment. This phenomenon has been attributed to low efficiency in input service delivery perpetuated by direct procurement and distribution coupled with poor extension messages. It is said that the current approaches to input support by government and other partners which are inefficient are contributing to poor production that is experienced by the farmers in the country. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has used the Input Voucher Scheme as a way of redressing the problem of inefficiency. The Input Voucher scheme involves training of the beneficiary farmers in Conservation Farming techniques after which the agricultural inputs are given to these farmers through the voucher cards. Although the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) voucher scheme approach has been offered as an alternative there is no evaluation that has been conducted on it so far to establish its effectiveness and efficiency. The local experiences on the FAO Input Voucher Scheme have not been adequately documented and Government’s hesitation to implement the voucher system is to some extent attributed to lack of adequate information on the voucher scheme performance locally. The local scholarly pieces of work that have been done so far focus only on Seed Fair Voucher, which is different from the Input Voucher Scheme being referred to in this study. The study is a very important pre-requisite and requirement to the researcher’s obtainment of a master’s degree in Public Administration. The overall objective of the study was to establish to what extent the use of input voucher scheme has contributed towards the alleviation of perceived shortcomings associated with late delivery of inputs, cost of programme implementation and low production and productivity. The key concepts for this study are input distribution, accessibility and sustainability. Input distribution is the mode by which inputs are obtained by the provider and made available to the beneficiaries. Input access is the mode by which the farmer beneficiary acquires the inputs, in the desired quantities and at the right time. The availability of inputs to the individual farmer refers to the physical existence of the inputs from the reliable source. Sustainability of food security refers to a dimension – a time frame over which period is being considered. All the above elements are inter-related in that the distribution will determine the level of availability and access of inputs by the farmer.The study was in two districts, Chongwe and Mazabuka which were selected purposively. Various instruments were used to collect secondary data while primary data was collected through scheduled questionnaires and interviews from the farmers (sampled randomly) and key informants (selected purposively). Structured questionnaires were used to get quantitative data from 240 farmers. The interview schedule was used to get qualitative data from FAO (three), MACO (20), Conservation Farming Unit (two) and agro-dealers (eight). Additionally, qualitative data was collected through focused group discussions on about 80 farmers. The overall total sample size for the study was 353. The qualitative data was analysed using Constant Comparison and quantitative data was analysed using Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) software. In brief, the study found out that the logistics and administrative costs of Input Voucher Scheme were lower when compared with FISP’s Direct Procurement and Distribution System. On the other hand, both production and productivity among Input Voucher Scheme recipients was slightly better than non beneficiaries. Lastly, the Input Voucher Scheme also seemed to have increased access to and choice of farming inputs by farmers, while also increasing income levels. The FISP was also found to be better at delivering inputs closest to the farmers’ door steps compared to the Input Voucher Scheme.Therefore, the Input Voucher Scheme may need to refocus on how the issue of easy access to inputs at farm gate could be addressed given an understanding that the FISP is relatively better in terms of facilitating easy access to inputs at farm gate. A Longitudinal Study is recommended because studying the effects out of only 2 years may not be enough.
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