Zambia has the majority of its population concentrated in the rural areas and over 90% of the people are dependent on agriculture as the main source of income

Zambia has the majority of its population concentrated in the rural areas and over 90% of the people are dependent on agriculture as the main source of income. With abundant resources in terms water, land and labour, the Government has always worked towards growing the agriculture sector (Zambia Development Agency, 2011).
According to Zambia Development Agency (ZDA), the agricultural sector is one of the main drivers of the economy contributing significantly (around 20%) to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The sector does not only contribute to 35% to the country non-traditional exports but also provides employment to at least 70% of the labour force.
Since independency the Government has implemented a number of policies in the agricultural sector aimed at improving productivity, accessing markets for inputs, soil protection and digital payment processes. This paper endeavours to provide a detailed analysis on one of the longest implemented policy in the sector called Farmers Input Support Program (FISP), (Central Statistical Officer, 2004).

In the year 2001 the Government launched the Farmer Input support program whose main aim was to increase and improve access of inputs by smallholder farmers and also boost the contribution of private sector in the distribution and supply of agricultural inputs. This policy was to involve provision of subsidized input packages of seeds and fertilizer to small scale farmers and to encourage competition among private input providers throughout the country in order to improve agriculture productivity and make the market for inputs more efficient and robust (Araki .M, 2001).
By the year 2001 research findings on the access of agricultural input showed that only 30% of the smallholder farmers accessed improved seeds/fertilizer. As a result, the Government saw that smallholder farmers were too weak economically to provide adequate demand for private inputs and that this was leading to problems with the erosion of Country’s resources, low farmers productivity and increased cases of food insecurity and poverty at the household and national level. Previous input program since liberation had suffered from poor credit recovery and were unsubstantiated (Chituwo. B, 2009).
According to Ministry of Agriculture, the Government acquire inputs for smallholder farmers using registered agro dealers engaged through the process of tendering sealed bids. The successful bidders are then given contracts to supply and transport the packages of inputs to various districts for subsequent distribution to farmers through Cooperatives. According to Ministry of Agriculture, in the first seven years of implementation of the program, had managed to distribute about 422000 metric tonnes of fertilizer, covering a total area of 1,600,000 hectares. Each year, an average of 60,000 metric tonnes of fertilizer are distributed.

One of the ways to assess whether the input support program provides good value for money is to look at the program’s effect on maize production. This in the only output indicator regularly reported by the Government and is perfectly reasonable basis for measuring the program’s overall impact on smallholder capacity. The table below presents maize production for eleven farming seasons after the launch of farmer support program. Note that, other things that affect maize yield such as weather and other natural calamities are held constant. Results show that in 2000/2001 farming season before the launch of the program maize production was 430000 metric tonnes. However, in 2002/2003 when the Government introduced subsidies on inputs, maize harvest went up to 880000 metric tonnes, indicating more than 100% increment. The following season (2003/2004), maize production was at 990000 metric tonnes, representing a marginal increment of 12.5%. During the farming season 2004/2005/, Zambia experience droughts, as a result maize production trended downwards to 600000 metric tonnes. However, it could not go below 430000 metric tonnes recorded in 2000/2001 farming season. From 2006 to date (2018), maize production has been around 1200000 metric tonnes (Crop Forecast Surveys, 2000/2001-2007/2008-Central Statistical Office).
Table 1
Maize production trends
Agriculture Year Maize production (in Metric tonnes)
2000/2001 430000
2002/2003 880000
2003/2004 990000
2004/2005 600000
2006+ Average of 1200000
Source: Crop Forecast Surveys, 2000/2001-2007/2008(Central Statistical Office)
The aforementioned program has positively impacted the agricultural sectors in the following ways:
Firstly, the program has enhanced private sectors capacity and efficiency in the provision of agricultural inputs across the country. Since the program’s inception, a significant number of private companies particularly those that provides seeds and fertilizer have come on board. This has caused competition to increase among the private input providers resulting into; reduction in prices, efficiency and effectiveness of the market for inputs (Zulu and Janey, 2005).

In addition, private networks are more robust compared to before the program launch. The private supply networks are strong in many areas of the country. It has been reported by 90% of the communities throughout the country that there are dependable private input suppliers where they can get to for quality inputs before the onset of the rains. Statistics also show that, communities along the line of rail have enough business for agriculture inputs to sustain private vendors (Central Statistical Officer, 2004).
Secondly, the launch of this program has seen a reduction in unemployment to up to 20%. The introduction of this program brought about an increase in demand for agricultural inputs. For the suppliers to meet the growing demand, they had increase production of seeds/fertilizer and importation of agricultural machinery. Consequently, the suppliers had to increase the number of expertise and human resource in general (Ministry of Agriculture, 2005).
Thirdly, as stated above that the majority of farmers are based in the rural areas. This programs has also enormously impacted the rural community. As a result of the farmer support program, close to one million farmers in the rural areas receive farm inputs each farming season. It is for this reason, that for the past seventeen years the average output per smallholder farmer has been reasonably high. Furthermore, higher agricultural output means enough income; to implement their income earning opportunities, to pay for educational fees and acquire quality health care (Kalinda and Sikwibele, 2006).
As a result of increased agriculture output, there has been an increase in the provision of rural infrastructure. Therefore, farmers do not only have access to other agriculture inputs which are not part of the farmer support package but also market to sell their products.
Besides having strengths, the farmer support program also has some weaknesses. The following are some of the weaknesses;
I. The program is bias towards cultivation of maize. As a result of this, the structure and the characteristic of input support to the agriculture sectors does not favour other equally rewarding activities in the sector targeted at both local and foreign markets. Maize cultivation covers about 76% of cultivated land in Zambia. This has led to a gravely distorted and lop-sided agricultural sector dominated by a single crop. Subsidies targeted at maize seed and fertilizers accounts for approximately 10% of the Nation’s total budget. This is quite a huge expenditure on one crop for a country that is undergoing budgetary pressure (M Tsoka, 2008).

II. Most inputs arrive late. Late delivery is one of the reasons the program is not meeting its objects. Research shows that only 4% of farmers receive inputs before the rains season begin. Timelessness of planting is very essential with most crops particularly maize, consequently, the late delivery of inputs has negative impact on yields (World Bank report, 2008).

III. The majority of farmers do not get what they usually sign for. Input distribution is characterised by a huge difference in farmer’s expectation and actual receipts. When signing up for farmers support program, the majority are expectant of a full package marketed by the program. However, when inputs arrive, very few (about 40%) receive a full package of inputs. The difference in expectations and receipts leads to serious consequences for ability to be able to plan for a meaningful productive decisions including whether or not to buy inputs outside the program (M Tsoka, 2008).

The major reason for this outcome is the over subscription of farmers by participating co-operatives before they know their actual allocation. Despite the program having an orderly process of formal meeting and farmer selection to ensure that the right people are getting the inputs, many of these procedures are either not followed or happen to late in the season to be effective.

IV. In adequate financial resources is another reason why the implementation of the program has not fully been established. Recent Government policies has neglected the agricultural sector in terms of financial resource allocation, despite the fact that over 90% of people depend on agriculture as their main source of livelihood. Any noticeable improvement in resource allocation is as a result of functions of donor support (World Bank report, 2008).

V. The allocation of subsided input is based primarily on the proportional distribution of farmers in each district. Regions which are populous have the best developed private supply network, as a result, large amounts of total subsidy goes to places where there is already reasonable private sector supply capacity while less populous areas, where smallholder farmers have fewer private alternatives are left behind (Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, 2010).
The farmer support program has been a success in some parts of the country. Comparing two rural areas of southern and western parts of Zambia, the program has been a success to former compared to the later. Why has farmers support program not fully succeeded in the western part of the country? The following are some of the reasons and answers to this questions:
The cost of delivering agricultural inputs to the farmers are very high and the benefit in terms of agricultural productive are so low for adoption of agricultural inputs use to be a profitable investment. Most farmers in the southern part live along the line of rail, therefore, it is cheaper to transport and distribute inputs to various cooperative for farmers to collect. However, the western part has no rail system available and the road network is poor, hindering the smooth and cheaper transportation of agricultural inputs to the area. For instance, the road infrastructure in a district called Nalolo in western part is so poor that roads are impassable in the rain season In addition, the area has low density of farmers, this is because the majority of people are involvement in buying and selling of fish (fish trading). Therefore, there is low demand for agricultural inputs making agro-dealers fail to set up agro-shops for fear of not covering costs incurred when setting up trading centres (Zulu ; Janey, 2005).

Higher risk of crop failure is another reasons for the failure of the farmer support program to succeed in western part of the country. In the recent years, the area has been experiencing drought and the land is not fertile enough compared to other regions. A season of prolonged drought can easily wipe out an investment and results in significant loses. Therefore, the Government has priorities resources to areas that experience good rains to increase expected benefits of the investment and reduce the costs of failed investment (Central Statistical Officer, 2004).
Furthermore, the majority of people in the western region are not involved in substantial income generating activities. As a result, they do not have enough income to pay for their 25% part of the input package. On the other hand, people living in the southern region are involved in more vital economic activities such as cattle rearing, salaried employment and trading. Consequently, they have enough income to meet part payment of subsidized inputs (Zambia Development Agency, 2011).
Recommendations and conclusion:
Firstly, for the program to bring more growth in the agricultural sector and livelihood security, the target should be farmers with good market access and proven track record to produce good harvest. In addition, the program should also target poor farmers in order to improve their source of livelihood.
Secondly, the program should address the late delivery of inputs and the gaps between farmers’ expectation and actual deliveries. Late deliver of inputs has for years affected crop production and this seriously undermines the impact of the program (World Bank report, 2008). Furthermore, the Government should introduce a system for routine audits checks, accounting and a result based monitoring and evaluation. Currently, Government does not have a tracking system for inputs’ spending or any performance indicators needed to make informed policy decisions. The Government should start engaging farmers in the monitoring. Participatory monitoring has been used in many areas as the way to increase accountability (Kalinda and Sikwibele, 2006).
Lastly, maize production is poor in some areas of the Country and the subsidised inputs mostly favours the aforesaid crop. Therefore, the Government should consider taking an in-depth stakeholder analysis to make this policy more inclusive. For example, the governments should invest more in rice farming as western province is mostly swampy, hence, supports this type of crops. The Government needs to diversify the agricultural sector, so that more crops can exported and this could result into positive adjustment of the balance of payment (Jonathan .C, 1994).

In conclusion, agricultural input subsidies are gaining a lot of support as a tool to foster improved agriculture production as a pro poor policy approach, specifically increasing household for livelihood security for most Africa countries. All in all, if well managed, Farmer Input Support Program (FISP) may provide low implementation costs, improve timely access and availability of agricultural inputs. It is a program with potential to enhance production and livelihood security. It can therefore be concluded that, the program is a viable and sustainable mechanism for agriculture input procurement, delivery and distribution among small scale farmers in the rural areas.

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