THE Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) was crafted by Government to revolutionise farming in Zambia and lift peasant farmers from perpetual low yields, household food scarcity and poverty and transform them into a highly productive, organised and well-funded force to push the country’s much vaunted economic diversification.
FISP was designed to increase agricultural productivity, ensure every Zambian family especially in rural areas was food secure and in the process put money in people’s pockets.
In addition to the regular FISP, the Patriotic Front government introduced another innovation – the E-voucher and Visa Card system which was intended to provide subsidised support to targeted beneficiaries using the electronic system. The idea was to improve timely access to inputs by small scale farmers and give them a wider choice of subsidized inputs.
Sadly after so many years and billions of Kwacha of FISP, Government has nothing to show as a return on the investment. The small scale sector has not improved by any standard, the peasant farmer is still poor and disorganised as ever and agriculture has failed to diversify the economy.
Instead FISP has spawned a new dependence syndrome where every year small scale farmers use their combined political clout to arm-twist the Government in power to give them money to buy farming inputs and in most cases, as discovered by the Auditor General in the 2015/16 report, they use the scheme to swindle the State.
We strongly support the observation by President Edgar Lungu yesterday that FISP has been abused by its intended beneficiaries and Government was working on a new method of making FISP more effective by turning it into a revolving fund. Small scale farmers would no longer survive on handouts from Government under the pretext of FISP but use the revolving fund to develop their capacities, boost their agro-businesses and eventually diversify their production.
The President has been supported by the National Union for Small Scale Farmers of Zambia who bluntly told the Daily Nation yesterday that FISP was a disaster and must be scrapped if the overall strategy to diversify the economy was to be achieved. In their opinion Government must abandon FISP and let the scheme be managed by the private sector.
The Auditor General in the 2016/17 report makes a dawning indictment against FISP and how it has been abused by Government officers managing the fund and some of its crooked intended beneficiaries.
In one incident, 15 famers used the FISP visa card to withdraw almost K20,000 at Automated Teller Machines (ATM) instead of swiping in agro dealer shops. The money was most likely used for other things than buy farming inputs.
In addition the system was riddled with irregularities such as issuing FISP cards to ineligible farmers, mismanagement of funds, missing payment vouchers, misapplication of funds, unsupported payments and unretired imprest by officers feasting on the scheme.
Among other glaring mistakes, there were no reports to show the breakdown of inputs procured using 52,247 E-voucher cards worth a staggering K109,716,700 of public funds. It could not therefore be confirmed whether the money was used for its intended purpose or simply pocketed by the civil servants in the Ministry of Agriculture.
And yet the E-voucher system was a pilot project in fewer than 20 districts. We shudder to think what would have happened if it had covered the whole country.
We commend the Government for accepting the truth that FISP has failed to achieve its primary goal of pushing the small scale farmer from peasantry into the big league. As it is FISP is a bottomless pit and a huge drain on Government resources. Farming is a business and our farmers must learn to stand on their two feet.
In this error of Government austerity, FISP has no place in the next national Budget. Like all wasteful subsidies, it must be scrapped.