Mmegi Online :: Don't rush land confiscation - farmers
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Last Updated
Friday 15 December 2017, 17:56 pm.
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Don't rush land confiscation - farmers

While welcoming government's move to confiscate fallow land from idle farmers, farming associations across the country have urged the government to go slow on the move so as to give land owners the chance to prove themselves.
By MONKAGEDI GAOTLHOBOGWE
Staff Writer
(GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Don't rush land confiscation - farmers








The government's position to reclaim fallow land and give it to more deserving commercial farmers is being spearheaded by President Ian Khama who is currently travelling, informing villagers of government's intention.

At the Ministry of Agriculture, the director of crop production, Molatlhegi Modise, says that the latest move by government was prompted by the realisation that farms, especially on communal land, are not being utilised.

"Go tsewa masimo a a sa dirisiweng - we will only reclaim fallow land, because we want to feed the nation but we cannot feed the nation with fallow fields. But we have not started doing that. At the moment government is in the process of consultation with stakeholders like communities so that they understand government's stand," Modise said.

No timeframe has been set for this move but the tone of the president as he goes about addressing the issue in Kgotla meetings shows this is an urgent matter. Indeed, in the process, panic has ensued as angry landowners write letters to the editors, while some take their MPs to task about the move by government, which would strip them of their rights to the land or masimo.

The Botswana Crop Farmers Association and Botswana Seed Growers Association secretary general, Patrick Pule Ralotsia of Kanye, says government must go slow to avoid a backslash from angry farmers who have been stripped of their masimo. According to Ralotsia, fallow land or magola in the vernacular is a complicated issue among local farmers. He believes that Batswana's understanding of land ownership has to be understood while dealing with the problem of fallow land because traditionally Batswana treat masimo as personal property.

Ralotsia says although a land applicant has to specify what he requires the land for, and is usually informed to have developed the land within a certain period of time, that land board requirement has not been followed for decades, leading to  the current tradition, which has become a sort of traditional law that the land always belongs to the person and he or she can do whatsoever they like with it, when it suits them.

"I think the president will have to tread carefully and advise farmers to start using their land for what they requested it for. It should come as a warning, so that the communities have ample time to rectify their mistakes and start being serious," said the official.

However, Ralotsia acknowledges that fallow land remains a challenge in Botswana. He says in the Mathethe agricultural district, which has Malore, Kangwe, Mosi, Metlobo, Tswaneng lands, over 90 percent of the land is fallow land, adding that the land has now been turned into grazing land. In fact, Ralotsia says a few years ago the Mmathethe Agricultural District  requested a company in South Africa to sample their soils and 

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design a fertiliser specific to their area:  "The company did its research, and came up with a product, but it made losses because after that no one took farming seriously." "Some land owners believe in leasing out their land, but leasing land creates uncertainty. First of all the lessee has to manipulate the land to his liking and it takes time for the land to get to a productive state.

"Sometimes before the lessee knows it, the owner wants the land back  after two years. Also the landowners usually happen to be people who know nothing about the value of land or its production capacity.  "Often the land is just fallow land, but then the so-called landowner makes outrageous demands. So it is only better if the land is re-allocated to someone who needs it," Ralotsia reasons.

In the north, Melton Bangale, the chairperson  of Tshukudu Farmers Association, made up of farmers from Tonota, the North East and Tutume regions, has described  the government's latest move as  'too swift'.

"It is a fast reaction by government because it is the very same government, which  has been encouraging farmers with fallow land to lease it out to the youth so they can benefit from the Young Farmers Fund.

"The government has said that people can lease land from their relatives now the very same government  wants to reclaim the land. It is not clear whether for example people who have leased out their land will now be stripped of this land," Bangale said. "Government should not go to war with us. They should rather issue a warning and give people time to correct the situation. We think farmers need to be given a grace period because once you have been stripped of your land, how and when will you ever get the land back?

"I think the consultation should be conducted just in the same way the land board is doing with plots allocation.They give people a chance to develop the land. Sometimes land becomes fallow due to various reasons like infighting among family members," Bangale said.

However, Samson Mabachi, the chairperson of Central Horticulture Growers Association (CEHOGRA) feels the government's move is commendable because huge chunks of land have been in the hands of people who do not need it while serious-minded farmers have nowhere to invest. He says in as far as he is concerned, the land boards have been raising the same concern. "The consultation has been there. People have been warned that if they do not develop their masimo, the land will be repossessed."

"I have been owning this land for over 20 years. I live here full-time. I do farming full-time on a large scale and I supply chain stores and other parties. Why can't everybody take farming as seriously?"

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