By Tilekeni Kaunda
Poverty and food insecurity has been the main factors affecting economic growth and development in Malawi and most especially those in rural areas. The poor and vulnerable households are the categories of people mostly affected.Poverty and income are closely related and it has been argued that a low income level is a manifestation as well as a strong cause of poverty. And due to the fact that a large majority of the rural dwellers are below the poverty line (are poor) and that their livelihood depends mainly on agriculture, access to farm inputs to increase crop production and productivity of natural resource base (land), is very difficult.
Finding a lasting solution to the chronic food insecurity through increase in productivity has been a major focus of Lusubilo Community Based programs. The organization believes adoption of new agricultural technology, such as high yielding varieties could also generate the desired increase in agricultural productivity for poor and vulnerable households and can help to stimulate the transition from low productivity subsistence agriculture to high productivity farming. However, the lack of access to improved seeds has been identified as one of the major constraints to improved variety adoption. Meanwhile, adoption would not be possible without access to the certified improved seeds.
Lusubilo Community Based Programs, through sustainable Options Recommended for Testing (SORT) project, has been supporting the needy farmers with farm inputs such as fertilizer and seeds of improved varieties to increase crop production and productivity. The system that was used to distribute the farm inputs was through ordinary direct distribution. Although the project registered notable achievement in dealing with food insecurity, there were other implementation bottlenecks and constraints such as a farmer planting a crop variety of their choice.
In order to deal with these problems,The Lusubilo Community Based Organization piloted a shop seed voucher system.The system involves the use of coupons (usually digital) which have a monetary value. Beneficiaries were exchanging the vouchers for seed of their choice at selected agro-dealer shops within their locality. This approach has allowed farmers to get seeds of the crop variety that best suits their soils. Besides this, the use of vouchers for the provision of seed has proved to be straightforward and transparent; it has reduced the cost incurred to transport farm inputs to various places; it is timely in terms of implementation; it offers farmer an opportunity to test modern varieties; and empowers local community.
There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that cash/ voucher-based approaches can meet beneficiary needs in the most effective and cost-efficient way, by providing beneficiaries with the dignity of choosing preferred goods and services apart from boosting local economies and livelihoods by working through existing market systems.
According to one of the farmers who received a seed voucher, the voucher system has given the farmers another and he is very grateful to Lusubilo Community Based Organization for coming up with this approach.“This system of using voucher to buy farm inputs has given us (farmers) to choose planting materials of our choice and this will strengthen farmer seed systems and local markets” said the farmer.
Since farmers will have access to seed of improved crop varieties that best suits their soil and climate, it is expected that farmers will produce more and earn more income, reducing their propensity to fall into poverty again.