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Farmers relegated to stepchildren

MMEGI EDITOR
Before the discovery of diamonds, farmers were regarded as this country’s economic backbone.

Now, Botswana’s hard-working farmers are hardly engaged and not getting accurate, timely and relevant advice from research and policy developers.  As it is, we are likely to experience another worst low rain season.

But research and policy developers’ silence is deafening, keeping the struggling subsistence farmers especially, who make the majority and bear the responsibility for supporting most families, in the dark.

These are mostly elderly men and women and farming to them means the world. It is still early January 2018, and ploughing activities should have started in November last year.

In fact, seeds and fertilisers should have been distributed as early as September, something that has not happened, and no information is forthcoming.  What is obvious is that the relevant authorities in the Agriculture Ministry have not sufficiently prepared and informed farmers in a systematic manner, about the challenges expected this rainy season. 

Back in 2015, the Minister of Agriculture, Patrick Ralotsia traversed the country addressing Kgotla meetings and advising farmers on ways to avoid losses, in light of the forecast poor rains. 

During that period, Ralotsia urged farmers to avoid planting maize and rather opt for sorghum and pearl millet, which can better resist harsh weather conditions. 

He also urged farmers to devise various water harvesting mechanisms and heighten water conservation. However noble these efforts were, they are sporadic and incoherent and the exact opposite of what is required, which is a scorched earth, border-to-border educational campaign coupled with tangible

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policy tweaks to the ISPAAD programme, government’s main agricultural support instrument.

Moreover, our view is that the assistance farmers receive under ISPAAD should be reviewed to push farmers towards the interventions required to avoid crop failure, financial losses and food insecurity due to poor rains.  

The almost half-a-billion   pula spent on ISPAAD should not benefit farmers who insist on planting maize exclusively in inefficient and disproved methods, such as those practicing broadcast planting. 

The inputs, from tillage services to seeds and herbicides, should be aligned with the research policy decision to avert crop failure by encouraging the planting of drought resistance crop varieties and assisting national food security. 

It should also be remembered that paradigm-shifting educational campaigns of this nature require time to filter through to the grassroots. 

Farmers, particularly those in the areas due to be worst affected, should by this stage be intimately aware of what to do this season, in order to avoid very real crop and financial losses that seem to appear in the horizon.

We should remember that the method of ISPAAD transmission, through cumbersome bureaucracy, has always been inefficient and been regularly cited as one of the programme’s limiting factors. 

Before we blame the first-borns for next year’s crop failures, we need to ask whether we researched adequately and efficiently relayed the warnings to them in a timely manner.

Today’s thought

“The discovery of agriculture was the first big step toward a civilised life.”

– Arthur Keith



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