Mmegi Online :: Eyes to the skies for February
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Last Updated
Wednesday 19 September 2018, 14:07 pm.
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Eyes to the skies for February

Subsistence crop farmers countrywide will spend the month looking at the skies, as February represents the last reasonable hope for any type of yield from the fields. Meanwhile, a report released this week says only 20% of normal rainfall has fallen thus far. Staff Writer, MBONGENI MGUNI reports
By Mbongeni Mguni Fri 09 Feb 2018, 16:38 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Eyes to the skies for February








The crop situation for the season will increasingly become clear starting from this month. The official ploughing season for the South ended on Wednesday, while communal farmers in the North have until next Thursday. The start and end of the ploughing season refer to the period in which the farmers are able to access free tillage services provided under government’s multi-million Pula agricultural inputs programme, ISPAAD.

A prolonged and unexpected dry spell, stretching from November – the traditional start of ploughing – had all but wiped out most farmers’ hopes of ploughing this season. Two successive waves in the New Year seared the few young crops that had survived the dry spell, most farmers to trudge off their fields in despair.

Experts say February is logically the last month to plant, as the maize crop preferred by farmers takes three months to mature, by which time its survival is threatened by fewer hours of sunlight in the day and the onset of winter frost. By last Thursday, 6,131 hectares of crops had been planted by 1,101 farmers across the country, compared to 384,250 hectares planted last season by 100,250 farmers.

The dire numbers do not end there. A report released this week by an American agency, the Famine Early Warning System Network, estimated that Botswana had received less than 80% of its normal rainfall between November and end of January. “The dryness has led to increased concerns for drought, water availability and impacts on cropping activities,” the report reads. “Ground conditions have degraded in parts of Namibia, Botswana, Angola, Zambia and western Mozambique.”

Meanwhile, a multi-agency group, led by the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs, released an emergency alert yesterday afternoon, warning governments in the region to take urgent steps to avert a food security crisis this season.

The report noted that countries such as Botswana and others had little to no crops in

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the fields, while late planting activities were ongoing in other areas. “South Africa, the largest producer of white maize in the region, has reported a 22% decline in area planted this season. Continuation of these conditions would have far reaching consequences on access to adequate food and nutrition during the 2018/19 consumption year and ability of farmers to produce in the 2018/19 cropping season.

“In addition, it will limit income generating opportunities resulting in far reaching consequences,” the alert reads. The agencies, which include the World Food Programme, UNICEF and humanitarian organisations, said urgent action was required.

“There is urgent need for members states and development partners to determine the scale and extent of the possible impact of the prolonged dry spell on the agricultural season (crop and livestock) to inform appropriate response actions for food security and nutrition and build the resilience of vulnerable populations in the region.

“Recommended actions include increased monitoring of the situation, ascertaining available cereal stocks, fast-tracking of planned crop assessments and annual vulnerability assessments for early warning and early action and increasing off season production where possible.” Botswana, however, will not be fast-tracking its planned crop assessments. Local Government and Rural Development minister, Slumber Tsogwane, said the assessment teams would begin their tours as they do every year, in April.

“We will wait for the end of the season before conducting the assessments, as we do every year,” he said. In 2016, President Ian Khama fast-tracked the drought assessments after preliminary surveys indicated the collapse of arable farming activities across the country due to the El Nino phenomenon.

Local experts, however, believe poor yields this season will be ameliorated by stocks from the 2017 bumper harvest which was aided by Cyclone Dineo. The Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board, which manages the country’s strategic grain reserve, says its silos have eight months of supply left before imports are required.

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