Integrating the non-commercial and commercial input markets through input vouchers: Recommendations for Zambia


Increased use of improved seed and fertilizer has the potential to raise productivity and increase farmers’ incomes, thereby reducing rural poverty. However, smallholder farmers, most of whom are in outlying areas, are faced with lack of access to these indispensable inputs. 

Conventional input delivery channels such as the Direct Seed Distribution (DSD) used by government and non-governmental organizations have failed to address effectively the lack of access to seed due to the massive delays in delivering the input; in some cases irregularities such as corruption and financial mismanagement have also been experienced. 

Attempts are being made to improve seed distribution through approaches such as the Seed Voucher and Fairs (SV&F). Despite limited voucher experiences in areas such as Shangombo, little is known about the efficacy and impact of vouchers in agricultural input marketing and/or distribution in Zambia, and how it could assist government and the private sector to distribute inputs (including subsidies) without undermining the growth of commercial input markets in the country. 

In 2002 the Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives (MACO) considered fertilizer distribution using a voucher-based system, but inadequate information and experience in using vouchers made it difficult to convince decision makers. 

To address policy-level interests in the voucher system, FANRPAN and its stakeholders in Zambia (and other countries participating in the study), including the Agriculture Consultative Forum (ACF), realized the importance of undertaking an in-depth study of the impact of vouchers in Zambia. Country researchers were, therefore, commissioned to identify whether (and how) input vouchers could be an effective distribution mechanism for inputs. 

The study has been undertaken in two phases, and has addressed the following issues: 

  • Assessment of farmer and stakeholder perceptions of agricultural input vouchers;
  • Assessment of the feasibility of using vouchers to integrate the commercial and non-commercial seed markets; and
  • Assessment and recommendation to implement a market-friendly seed and fertilizer marketing model for stakeholders.

The researchers secured information by undertaking a comprehensive international literature review during the first phase and continuing during the second phase with a detailed structured survey of stakeholders, using a questionnaire and checklists, assisted by Participatory Rural Appraisals and Focus Group Discussions. 

A National Dialogue workshop was supported by FANRPAN and organized by ACF, at which the draft survey findings were presented. Comments were incorporated into the final report.