FANRPAN Policy Brief Series 01/07


Agricultural Input Vouchers in Southern Africa: Research findings from Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia 
By Catherine Longley, with Richard Kachule, Mathews Madola, Inácio Maposse, Bruno Araujo, Thomson Kalinda and Hargreaves Sikwibele 


FANRPAN Policy Brief Series 01/07In recent years there have been a number of changes in how agencies provide seed and agricultural inputs to farmers affected by disaster. Conventional approaches to emergency seed provisioning - also known as direct seed distribution - have been modified, and there is increasing experience with voucher-based programming mechanisms. These changes stem from the limited impact of conventional approaches, combined with the more chronic nature of many disasters. In the case of southern Africa, disasters tend to be related to recurrent drought, chronic poverty (often related to HIV/AIDS), and market failures. Responses in the agricultural sector are not only designed to provide planting materials to farmers in the short term but also to promote longer-term development aims such as crop diversification, improved nutrition, improved soil fertility, higher yields, and the adoption of practices relating to conservation agriculture. The problems associated with conventional direct seed distribution, together with the need to fulfil longer-term developmental objectives, has promoted the emergence of several different programming approaches to seed provisioning. 

This policy brief is a synthesis of the findings from research undertaken by the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) in Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia to examine the different ways in which relief seed and seed vouchers are programmed. There are two main ways in which vouchers are used in these countries: 

  1. As a way of identifying beneficiary farmers and providing specific pre-defined inputs and;
  2. As a way of providing farmers with the means to purchase seed or other agricultural inputs of their choice.

In cases where vouchers are used to identify beneficiaries, the voucher is essentially a chit that beneficiary farmers must present to receive inputs provided through direct distribution. Under this mechanism, beneficiary farmers have no choice as to the inputs they receive. 

In the second voucher programming mechanism, vouchers with a specific cash value are given to target farmers who can then exchange their voucher with approved traders for the inputs of their choice. Under this second mechanism, vouchers are often programmed in conjunction with an agricultural input fair, which takes place on an agreed day at an agreed location to which traders are invited to bring different types of seed and other agricultural inputs. Farmers can then exchange their vouchers with any of the traders and for any of the inputs available at the fair. 

Based on the evidence from the case study countries, the paper seeks to identify how seed vouchers can potentially best benefit both farmers and commercial seed markets. The interest in commercial seed markets stems from a concern that direct seed distribution potentially inhibits the development of a sustainable, market-based input marketing system. Instead of responding to demand for agricultural inputs from farmers, commercial companies are reacting to the demand from those agencies that implement direct seed distributions. Thus, the link between the consumer and the private sector is interrupted by the presence of the implementing agency: the seed companies have no knowledge of farmer preferences; and the farmers have no recourse vis-à-vis the company in the event that they are dissatisfied with the seed provided. 

This synthesis highlights the broad range of ways in which direct distribution has been implemented in the three countries, and the limited ways in which voucher-based programming has been used. Variations on direct distribution interventions include the use of commercial agro-dealers as distributing agents, various forms of beneficiary contributions or payments, and the establishment of various secondary structures such as revolving funds, nurseries, seed banks, and public works infrastructure.