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Biometric seed of hope for Zambia's farmers

Biometric-tech alliance plants seed of hope for Zambian farmers

France's Ingenico Group has partnered with payments technology company Paycode to roll out a biometric system that both companies, along with stakeholders in Zambia's agriculture sector, believe will strengthen the government's Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP).

FISP was established to help local small-scale farmers with subsidised farming inputs. Under the programme, the state pays ZMW1,600 (approximately US$160) and farmers pay K400 (approximately US$40) for the inputs, including fertilizer and seeds to approved agro-dealers.

Traditionally, FISP used either paper-based or electronic vouchers/ e-vouchers, which was susceptible to fraud.

So much so that in 2016 the Minister of Agriculture Dora Siliya declared FISP a failure because 7000 'ghost' farmers had been benefitting from the system at the cost of genuine farmers for whom the programme was initially set up.

Moreover, as ITWeb Africa reported, those who did receive inputs, received it late - despite confirmation from authorities that inputs had been distributed to co-operatives in all districts on time for follow-on distribution to farmers.

FISP was suspended in March 2017, confirmed at the time by the country's Minister of Finance Felix Mutati.

Biometric security

According to Paycode, because the programme is essentially run off sponsorships from international donors (including the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, as well as The Food Reserve Agency (FRA)), Zambia's government is compelled to ensure subsidies are being allocated to- and reach the intended recipients.

This is where biometric infrastructure adds immediate value – and where the Paycode Ingenico alliance has made a difference.

Farmers are now issued with an FISP electronic wallet to be used at participating approved agro-dealers equipped with Ingenico Group biometric smart terminals.

"During the transaction, they can use their fingerprint for authentication ... and access subsidies in 30 Zambian districts," reads a statement announcing the partnership.

Ingenico said subsidised input to the value of US$22 million was distributed in rural Zambia within three months.

Francoise Voyron, Middle East and Africa managing director at Ingenico Group said, "This solution demonstrates our ability to support governments in deploying innovative subsidies programme rapidly, successfully and in remote regions. As a matter of fact within 3 months, 91% of eligible farmers have already purchased materials using the new solution."

There is no confirmation of the cost to roll out the system.

Paycode and Ingenico highlight the security benefit and lower cost of reaching farmers, particularly in rural areas.

Prior to the biometric system roll out, being able to reach this target group and assist in processing e-vouchers to redeem subsidised inputs would have entailed a major logistic and labour-intensive operation.

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