E-VoucherFaced with corruption, Zambia turns to mobile phones. Within the next two to three months, the country will launch a system of e-vouchers operating through mobile phone networks that will cut out the middleman and allow farmers to choose which agro-dealers they would like to purchase from directly.

The e-voucher program, just recently approved by the Zambian government, will cover seeds, fertilizers and herbicides, offering subsidized agricultural products to small-scale farmers. Access to farming products and services, it is hoped, will also become more speedy and efficient through use of the new system.

The Zambian government and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) jointly facilitate the e-voucher project. The system will also benefit from US $6.5 million and US $9.7 million in funding from the Norwegian government and European Union respectively.

Functioning on a mobile phone network, the e-voucher initiative is an update on previous paper voucher systems. The digital nature of the e-voucher platform makes the process more secure and expedites trade through automatic payments to suppliers upon successful e-voucher redemption, keeping with the rising trend of mobile phone banking throughout Africa.

Many have high hopes for the e-voucher program, believing that it will empower farmers, whose crops make up 12 percent of Zambia’s exports.

“It gives farmers a choice in where they want to spend their money,” stated Zambia’s FAO representative, Noureddin Mona. “A farmer can use their voucher at any participating agro-dealer.”

Roger Phiri, president of the National Association for Peasant and Small-Scale Farmers, also holds this belief, stating that the use of e-vouchers will serve to prevent monopolies by agro-distributors.

It is important to note, however, that the e-voucher system will only empower farmers so far as their suppliers are in the system as well. In order for farmers to buy from a diverse range of suppliers, said range of agro-dealers must be e-voucher network members.

“The e-voucher system will only be appropriate if the voucher pack provides for diversity of inputs and services for a farmer to choose from,” said Agnes Yawe of Participatory Ecological Land Use Management. Yawe added that, while strong urban networks of major agro-dealers exist, rural networks remain subpar.

After initial tests in twelve districts yielded promising results, Zambia recently decided to expand its e-voucher system through a 28-district follow up test. The program also builds on successes of similar e-voucher initiatives in Rwanda, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

The partners hope to attract participants by offering farmers who register pre-paid e-vouchers worth US$53. Ideally, the e-voucher system will not only expedite agricultural deals, but also empower small-scale farmers.

Emma-Claire LaSaine

Sources: Sci Dev Net, IT Web Africa, World Trade Organization
Photo: PxHere

UN Highlights Technological Innovation and African Development
An often overlooked factor that underpins the sustainability of development in a nation is the ability to be innovative in the fields of science and technology. Recently, at a United Nations meeting in Tanzania, senior UN officials repeatedly stressed the importance of technological innovation and African development as key in moving past the 2015 millennium development goals and well into the future.

Of the many beneficial consequences of a robust science and technology sector, none is felt more than the long term effects they have on overall growth and job creation. Innovative Green Farming has produced thousands of new startups across much of the developed world, so too have the various technological enterprises built by well funded post-graduate researchers at various universities and laboratories. By harnessing the entrepreneurial power of science-based sectors, technological innovation and African development can work in tandem towards a sustainable economic future. In regards to the need for more innovation in Africa, President of ECOSOC Nestor Osorio remarked that “Innovation is the essence of our modern society. Without harnessing its power, we will not be able to create healthy, educated or inclusive societies. Greater efforts are needed to build partnerships among government, private sector, civil society, academia, philanthropic organizations and the international community, to promote and spread innovation for sustainable development in Africa.”

By utilizing the minds of the African populace, technological innovation and African development can be used to not only pull much of the people out of chronic poverty but also solve the food security and logistical challenges of the continent. By bringing to light the amazing potential of economic prosperity and a greater quality of life through the science and technological sectors, Africa can dramatically reduce poverty levels and standards of living well into the future.

Brian Turner

Source: UN News
Photo: Guardian