In his speech, on Tuesday, the President alluded to how COVID-19, has affected other sectors of the economy and our daily lives. Of the affected sectors, I have great sympathy for the entertainment and alcohol industries, and the abuse they have undergone at the hands of the COVID-19 Task Force.
I take comfort in that the latter will soon, have their day in court. I really lament that the failures of law enforcement, have been visited on innocent business owners, and their employees who have now surrendered their means, to the bootlegger.
There was something though that the President said which seems to have flown beneath the radar, namely how the virus and the challenges across the border, have exposed our capacity to take care of ourselves, as a country. For a fact, our dependency on our southerly neighbours has been a thorny issue for as long as I can remember.
It has been one of the issues perennially at the heart of political debate. In the end, it must be accepted that government is politically accountable for our near parasitical dependency on South Africa. But to suggest that government has done little with regard to our capacity to feed ourselves, would be altogether untrue. Few governments the world over, have gone as far as our government, in this sector.
Few, have taken responsibility for part financing the fencing of every farm (tshimo) owned by an individual citizen. Few, have freely given seeds and paid for machinery, on behalf of the small scale farmer to plough. In this particular respect, and then bought the harvest. I must state that we have, in some way, let the government down, as a people.
True, some would argue, that approaches by government to the sector have been incompetent. They speak of the inexistence of a sector specific bank, amongst others and the prohibitive cost of utilities, in particular, electricity. But we must, I suggest, look at all these things within context. I know many friends who have accessed agricultural financing under the National Development Bank, and CEDA. I know many using solar energy. True, more could be done but that doesn’t subtract from our failure as Batswana to make the best use of what is at our disposal. Before we hang government out to dry, let us demonstrate our commitment to the challenge. No citizen with access to land, has a right to sit at home without ploughing and say they want electricity.
That is, a spoilt brat mentality. All over the country, fields are lying fallow. Indeed, there are structural issues including the prices at which BAMB purchases produce even from those who really try. But that is still symptomatic of the unhealthy relationship between the farmer and government. It is still symptomatic of the near absolute dependency of the former on the latter.
To give an example, cattle farmers, are able to sell to private purchasers for better prices than if they bought from the BMC, and also for better turnaround times. The inability of the private agricultural sector to grow organically as a market, and as an engine for economic growth, is debilitating, given existing efforts by government. On this score, we are crying for more food before we can even swallow what is in our mouths. As citizens, we are failing government in the agricultural sector.
We can, do better.
I am heartened by the fact that so many young people are taking keen interest in horticultural farming and integrated farming. Their efforts provide inspiration to so many others. I have lawyer friends, who have become keen enthusiasts, even if, at a relatively small scale. One of them told me, the other day, how much he was making monthly from the sales of his produce, and I was impressed.
I can only hope that government would take keen interest in this sector and give it its full support, as part of food sufficiency, and employment creation efforts. I believe that in the total of all individual efforts, we can move away from a situation where we rely on another country for our basic survival. I use the coinage “small scale farming” grudgingly, for several reasons. Israel, is desert and only a tiny fraction of our land mass.
They have a bigger population and its citizens generally don’t have the luxury of the 10 hectors that every third person holds in this country. So, calling someone sitting on 20 hectares a small scale farmer is symptomatic of a poverty mindset. True, I have seen the huge farms in South Africa, and around the world, and I do not deny that capacity is relative. I am simply saying that we are failing to make efficient use of what we have.
So, I welcome the President’s call for citizens to double their efforts towards food production. Government is doing a lot already. There is a role which we must play as citizens, and we cannot be criticising all the time. We are failing ourselves. I know one man who leased his huge, unused tshimo to an Afrikaner man. Soon, it was all green and flourishing with crop. It was an inspiration and a head turner for what could be done at around fifty hectares. He got jealous and took it from him. Our man ran it down in a season, or two. It lies fallow, and decadent again.