Wématou Ougue farms in Tiébélé, a village in south-central Burkina Faso more than 150 kilometres from the capital, Ouagadougou. Mr. Ougue grows soybeans and cereals such as millet and maize.
He has benefitted from the government’s subsidy for vulnerable small farmers since 2008, when the subsidy was launched. This subsidy is available to small-scale farmers who cultivate one to five hectares of soybean and sesame, and helps then adapt their production to the changing climate. The subsidy covers improved seeds, fertilizer, and agricultural equipment, including animal-drawn ploughs and draught animals.
Mr. Ougue explains: “They sell us a kilogram of maize for less than 100 CFA francs ($0.18 US), while on the market it costs 350 francs ($0.63 US). Cowpea seeds are provided to co-operatives and women’s groups free of charge.”
But the inputs do not always arrive at the right time for producers, and this year’s delay coincided with the COVID-19 crisis. This was due to many reasons, including logistics and administrative difficulties.
Seeds arrived in Tiébélé in mid-June, but planting operations started in mid-May, an unfortunate situation for Mr. Ougue. He says, “Many beneficiaries have resold these seeds on the market or simply consumed them.”
To improve the distribution of subsidized inputs, the Ministry of Agriculture has initiated the Agri-Voucher strategy, which electronically manages distribution through mobile phones.
The Agri-Voucher system sends farmers an SMS message to notify them when the inputs allocated to them are available in their locality. The farmer can then pay via mobile money transfer. Farmers receive a receipt they can use to collect inputs from a local distribution store. Technical agents are on-site to inform and help farmers follow the procedures to receive the inputs.
But the Agri-Voucher system has encountered difficulties.
Weta Tihao farms in the village of Tiokui, about 60 kilometres from Dédougou in western Burkina Faso. He explains: “The electronic distribution of inputs is a good innovation. But most of our producers can’t read, so we delete the messages without realizing it—and many have not received a message because of network disruptions.”
For Mr. Ougue, this first year of electronic input management has been a complete failure. He says: “The idea is really good but the producers are illiterate; a lot of information and sensitization on this initiative was required before launching it.”
Ministry of Agriculture officials say they have taken note of these difficulties and promise to correct them in coming crop seasons. Nevertheless, they are satisfied with the results so far.
Pascal Zongo is the director of inputs and agricultural mechanization. He says, “We were pleasantly surprised by the results achieved.”More than 98% of vouchers that were prepared were distributed, a total of 529,000. And 97% of payments were made electronically. A WhatsApp platform was set up to allow producers to ask questions, make complaints, and offer suggestions.
But producers are insisting that an information and awareness campaign is required to successfully distribute subsidized agricultural inputs to vulnerable producers. Mr. Ougue proposes using local radio stations to inform farmers on time. He says, “We need these inputs in March-April.” He believes it’s particularly important to involve more technical agricultural agents who are already on the ground and who know the situation well.