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Ispaad is wasteful political expediency

Many subsistence farmers rely on government assistance to produce crops
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) continues to waste our meagre resources on programmes like ISPAAD despite the fact that there is very little or no returns on investment.

According to the Daily News of September 13, 2017, at page 6; the Chairperson of the Southern District Council, Alec Seametso, informed councillors that arable farmers in the Southern District ploughed 105,770,008 hectares; out of which 99, 663,369 hectares or 91 % was by subsistence farmers while the remaining nine percent was from commercial farmers. According to the same report given to Council; the harvest yielded 53 metric tonnes from cereal, 595 metric tonnes for leguminous crops, 315 metric tonnes as oil crops and 117 metric tonnes as fodder.

In an unprecedented turn of events, the 99,663,369 hectares or 91% that was ploughed by subsistence farmers only accounted for 14% of the harvest; whilst 85% of the harvest was from 6,106,639 hectares ploughed by commercial farmers. This invariably connotes that government though the Department of Crop Production may have spent about P49, 831,684 to pay tractor owners for ploughing (if we use P500 per hectare). This figure would become even higher when fertilisers and pesticides are added, just in the Southern District alone.

Although it is the responsibility of government to assist those who are poor and cannot fend for themselves, a responsible government cannot continue to pour a lot of money into subsistence arable agriculture when there are little or no tangible returns of investment. A government that takes itself seriously would have shifted its assistance to the nine percent who are contributing 85% of the harvest so that they would in turn employ the rest of the population.

The BDP government has over time created a very bad dependency syndrome on those Batswana who prior to Independence used to fend for themselves without any assistance. The agricultural production has fallen with the passing of years in Botswana.

The sector, which contributed about 40% to the GDP at Independence has been reduced to fewer than five percent of the GDP. The arable agriculture in particular has failed. The neglect of the sector has resulted in basic food deficit at national level, despite the amount of government interventionist programmes like ALDEP, ARAP, SLOCA,

AE10 and currently ISPAAD.

These wasteful programmes are compounded by the one-size-fits-all attitude rather than the development of targeted assistance schemes for small, medium and big commercial farmers and support each geographical area according to its needs and circumstances.

It is sad that despite the importance of research and development, agricultural research has never been a principal tool to producing evidence-based policies and practices. What the BDP has practised over the years in agriculture has been ‘shoot-and-miss’ programmes, hence millions of pula being poured down the drained under the so-called agricultural assistance programmes, with no tangible results or recipients graduating from poverty.

The BDP regime has systematically marginalised the rural areas. The disparities between the urban and rural areas continue to widen in both economic and social indicators. The rural areas are characterised by high levels of poverty, unemployment and poor quality of services. As a result of deliberate unemployment crisis, the BDP has come up with a programme called Ipelegeng which is no longer a drought relief programme, but an endeavour to ‘camouflage’ the high levels of unemployment and despondency, especially in rural areas.

The key sectors that are supposed to play an active role in rural development have been neglected. The agricultural sector lacks access to credit, institutional support, and access to appropriate technology. The basic infrastructure continues to be visibly absent. Basic services like electricity and telecommunications remain a major handicap to rural development. The lack of commitment by the BDP to rural development has driven most able women and men to urban areas, leaving rural areas with the least able to pursue meaningful development.

Although everything points to one direction, which is the need to develop rural infrastructure, the BDP has paid false piety to developing roads, telecommunications, dams and provide electricity to facilitate development of rural areas through agriculture.  This should be a key strategy to attract investment and the youth into the agricultural sector and improve opportunities for the rural populations to be fully engaged and earn decent incomes.

Brains K Kwadipane 

BCP of the UDC– Ghanzi Region

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