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Inadequate sensitisation blamed for slow e-voucher management system uptake

 Inadequate sensitisation is slowing enrolment of farmers in Gulu district into the Electronic Voucher Management System (EVMS), a programme created by the Ministry of Agriculture, Animals Industries and Fisheries to oversee distribution of agro-inputs to farmers through certified dealers.

Whereas the EVMS program was launched in Gulu in January 2019, records indicate that only about 800 out of the targeted 5000 farmers have registered and benefited from the project.

The project is part of the World Bank-funded Agricultural Cluster Development Project (ACDP) that aims to boost productivity of agricultural enterprises, increase access to markets and enhance the quality of agricultural products, among several other objectives.

Geoffrey Anywar, the ACDP Coordinator for Gulu district attributed the slow enrolment by farmers to inadequate sensitisation about the program.

“One of the biggest challenges is that people have not understood this system to the extent that they can trust to be enrolled,” Anywar said.

“The project was launched in Gulu in January 2019, but because of the complexity of the project the project we were only able to access the funds on the 25th of Oct 2019.” 

“This meant we were not able to sensitize the farmers immediately after the launch. You can’t sensitize without money, you need fuel for the vehicles, water, and food for trainers and all the stakeholders,” Anywar explained.

The EVMS requires each beneficiary to own a national identity card, subscribe through a registered mobile phone number and pay 33 percent of the price of the inputs amounting to 148,500 shillings before they are given 30 kilograms of rice or beans seeds of any variety, 50 kilograms of fertilizer or 80 kilograms of urea and a tarpaulin for drying of seeds drying. The government covers the remaining 67 percent of the cost for inputs.

Another challenge the program faced, according to Anywar, is that it required payment to be made through an agent of UBA bank who did not speak the local language, leading farmers to think they were being duped.

“It was not easy to convince farmers to trust the UBA agent who is a non-local language speaking person. So, we needed to translate whatever the bank agent was saying in English to Acoli. This brought trust issues among the farmers and few enrolled,” Anywar said.

“Just convincing the project people to bring another UBA agent was a long process, so by March the number of enrolees was not increasing, yet agriculture is rain-fed,” he said.

Anywar says the fact that sensitization started in December was also untimely because, by the start of the season, most farmers had forgotten how the system works. 

The EVMS requires a beneficiary to pay for the inputs using their mobile phone, before they are delivered by the service provider. This unfamiliar model (to the farmers) did little to win their trust.

“It was weird talking about buying inputs in December yet that is the time farmers are still harvesting and selling their produce, so they could not trust us with their money for seeds they were not seeing,” he said.

As a result, Anywar says that since the beginning of the project, they have only been able to distribute 2500 kilograms of rice, below the targeted 150,000 kilograms.

Jackson Oyugi, the Chairperson of Acoli Cooperative Union Limited agrees that enrolment of farmers in the EVMS is slow, and attributes the problem to information gaps between the farmers and project coordinators.

 Grace Akello, a farmer in Awach sub-county, says she has never heard about the EVMS, while Charles Obwoya, the vice-chairperson of Paicho Growers’ Cooperative Society Limited says he is yet to join the program because his phone has been faulty.

Anywar suggests that farmers should be trained well on how to buy inputs using their phones.

“This is an ICT platform for the farmers, so UBA agents have to teach the farmers who have not gone to school to understand how to use their phone to buy seeds or other inputs. Many farmers are just puzzled when they hear that you can buy an item using a phone,” he said.

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