The Northern Regional Director of agriculture, William Boakye Acheampong, has said government needs to scrap the fertiliser subsidy coupon system – due to the burden it places on Agric extension officers who are unable to perform their core responsibilities to farmers.
As part of the Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) initiative, government extended its subsidy on fertiliser, NPK and Urea, between GH¢68 and GH¢63; but this subsidy comes in the form of a coupon that farmers need to present at registered fertiliser retailers to access it.
The market price of a bag of NPK is GH¢136 and the Urea, GH¢126 – thus with the coupons farmers only pay half the price.
But speaking in an interview with B&FT on performance of the fertiliser subsidy initiative, Mr. Boakye Acheampong said the agricultural extension officers are usually unproductive during distribution of the fertiliser coupons.
“The main challenge is that the coupon system normally wastes the staff’s time, because the amount of time they take to distribute doesn’t allow them to do their extension work. In terms of recommendations, we have already communicated our suggestions to government. As for the coupons system, if it should be abolished it will be okay,” he told the B&FT.
William Boakye Acheampong, who is responsible for the sector in the region, said the region was allocated 1 million coupons comprising NPK and Urea.
The coupons, per the arrangement from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, will first go to Regional Directors of Agriculture who then send them to the Metro, Municipal, District Directors of Agriculture – who then give them to their various agriculture extension officers for distribution to the farmers.
The process can be cumbersome, given the bureaucracies involved right from the national level to the district level. The coupons by their nature are like a currency which when given to the registered fertiliser seller, he/she goes to redeem it from the Agric Ministry for the respective value.
The Regional Director’s comments come after reports of smallholder farmers’ agony over their inability to gain access to coupons and acquire the requisite fertiliser. B&FT’s investigations revealed that scarcity of the coupons is pervasive in the three northern regions.
Ideally, a smallholder farmer with a five-acre farm needs 10 bags of NPK and 5 bags of Urea to attain the optimum result from his farm. But scarcity of the coupons has meant that farmers have to go onto the open market to purchase the needed fertiliser – that is, if they can afford it, or make do with what they may have got from the extension officers.
Previously, farmers had to use a special booklet to access the fertiliser subsidy. Each farmer could get as much as 10 bags of NPK and 5 of Urea.
The District Director of Agriculture, Zakaria Fuseini, in the Kumbungu district of the Northern Region complained that the coupons allocated them at their district were woefully inadequate. The district has close to 30,000 smallholder farmers, but coupons for NPK advanced from the Regional Agric Office numbered just about 23,000 while it got 5,000 for urea.
According to him, his office – just like most others in the region – is swarmed by hundreds of aggrieved farmers on a daily basis seeking coupons. The situation is so chaotic that the DCE for the area, Abdul Salam Hamza Fatawu, said they had to establish an emergency technical committee to supervise distribution of the limited coupons to ensure sanity.
A million signatures
The District Director of Agriculture is expected to sign each and every coupon before they are distributed: so, for instance, of the 35,0000 coupons advanced to the Kumbungu district, Mr. Fusieni has to sign every single one to validate them.
This process, he argued, is very cumbersome and prevents him from doing any other work. He maintained that the challenges which beset the coupon system are enormous, and that any other mechanism that accrues to the advantage of all stakeholders involved should be quickly considered by government.