Agriculture is taking centre stage in plans for the revival of Botswana’s economic diversification under the new leadership of President Mokgweetsi Eric Masisi. Getting agriculture moving in Botswana is a big task.
The spatial land reform of 2017 will leave many outstanding challenges; not least the importance of compensating farm owners and affected communities. But the biggest challenge is that, with new ownership patterns, the agriculture sector has a much diffuse base.
Today there are many small to medium-sized farms rather than a few major players.
These implications for what Masisi does next. What are the top priorities for agriculture, and what can be learnt from the challenges faced in the land reform? The exceptions are those operating under contract arrangements with estates. These farmers have done relatively well because they have been supported and finance has been guaranteed.
New contracting and joint venture agreement are emerging in some areas, but much more needs to be done. Drawing on this experience, below I suggest 10 priorities for getting agriculture moving once the first hurdles of President Masisi’s tasks, undertaking a land audit and establishing an efficient land administration system (National Mapping Programme, National Reference Framework, LAPCAS) are complete.
Land tenure security should be assured through issuing 99-year leases for larger land reform farms and permits for small farms. This should be complemented by clear regulations to avoid land concentration and to facilitate youth and women’s access to land. This can be achieved through a multiform tenure system based on trusted, secure property relations.
Getting private bank finance flowing is essential. Bankable leases will help, as will the acceptance of a range of forms of collateral by finance institutions. State assurances and the building of trust will be key. It takes money to make money and your average Motswana doesn’t have money to establish a farm. We need a new design to finance emerging farmers that should not be based on cronyism and having friends in the right places.
Partnerships and Joint ventures/cluster farming will be significant for some medium-larger farm and certain crops, where external finance and expertise are essential. Opening opportunities for highly skilled white farmer from the region will be significant too. Regulations to ensure such opportunities are truly joint and involve the transfer of skills are vital.
Government loans for agriculture are currently offered in the form of subsidies through ISPAAD and LIMID programmes. Focusing on larger farms with irrigation infrastructure, it has shown some success
Access to markets
Linking diverse producers to markets is essential. Too often smallholders get poor values for their products, but ensuring local content purchasing by supermarkets, reduced red tape and support for investment in transport infrastructure will help.
The country must work on developing value-added activity around the agricultural sector. Local processing and packaging would ensure employment along the value chain. And preservation, processing and selling to niche markets could offset risks, such as glut in horticultural products. Botswana Bureau of Standards (BOBS) and National Food Technology Research Centre (NAFTRC) should come to the party.
Smart support systems
Extension advice and market support through IT applications is increasingly feasible, given growing connectivity and the wide ownership of smartphones. This means farmers can be offered more attuned and useful advice. A wholesale rethink of agricultural extension and support services is therefore required. Botswana Innovation Hub should come to the party.
Irrigation is essential to boost production in dry land areas, especially given the increased variability in rainfall patterns due to climate change. But this should not involve expensive, large-scale schemes. Instead they should be focused on supporting farmer-led irrigation, using small pumps and pipes bought locally (subsidised). External intervention should be focused on improving water use efficiency and management.
Appropriate mechanisation is another priority. Again this shouldn’t be focused on the large-scale options of the past. Small-scale mechanisation, such as the two-wheeled tractors and motorbike-drawn trailers may be more appropriate and affordable, and less subject to patronage, than large tractors and combines. For larger equipment, cluster/cooperative arrangements or private hire schemes could work, supported by online infrastructure and training.
Local economic development
Agricultural development needs to be seen as part of local economic development. It must be integrated into wider planning and investment frameworks at a distant level with new farms of varying sizes linked to small towns (Special Economic Zones) where new employment and service provision opportunities open up.
These 10 suggestions together could make a big difference, both to the economy and farmers’ livelihoods across the country. Let’s hope that President Masisi’s commitment to agricultural development translated into action-and soon.
* Oitsile Maele Koketso (MA-Politics and International Relation-UB)