As stubborn as farmers’ hopes traditionally are, the last several years of El Nino-induced drought have tested the resolve of even the most strong-headed.
Known as the country’s “first borns,” farmers were the backbone of this economy long before shiny stones were discovered in the Motloutse River in the mid-1950s, sparking the diamond era.
Even in the diamond age, farming activities have underpinned the rural economy, through produce and income, supporting hundreds of thousands of families, fostering the development of alternative economic sectors and moulding graduates for these new sectors.
At commercial level, farming has enhanced the country’s food security and reduced imports, while at subsistence level, it is critical to the rural economy and the broader national budget, by reducing the weight on government welfare support programmes.
This year, as has happened almost continuously since 2014/15, farmers are heading for another disaster on the fields and in the kraals. El-Nino-driven droughts which previously used to occur roughly once in seven years, are far more frequent due to the strengthening effects of climate change on our part of the world.
Herein lies the dilemma that government finds itself in with the “first borns”. Government, through several initiatives, pumps upwards of P600 million into subsistence farming programmes each year, providing inputs to boost agricultural activities, which in turn support the rural economy, lift food security and impact overall national GDP.
Thanks however to the frequency of droughts, government has found itself pumping even more hundreds of millions after every harvest in drought relief interventions to support farmers and rural economies. Last year, this figure amounted to P856 million, every thebe unbudgeted for and requiring the diversion of funds from other needs.
Taxpayers are not seeing any Return on Investment for the millions spent on the inputs programmes and instead, more funds are being expended every year to ameliorate the effects of successive failed seasons.
Government’s first port of call has to be to urgently review its inputs programmes and interventions to incorporate climate change. Everything from the types of crops to seed varieties to planting methods must be climate change sensitive. In fact, every thebe expended in the agriculture inputs programmes and interventions must be climate change sensitive, an outlook that recognises the new reality farmers find themselves in.
Some farmers, especially those long in the tooth, are notoriously inflexible in their ways and many have previously resisted advice on climate change-proofing their approach to both arable and pastoral agriculture.
It is up to government, which has the benefit of an abundance of technical experts and consultants, to take the hardline and only support farmers willing to toe the line of climate-change proofing their approach.
In as much as farmers are this country’s “first borns” and in as much as every Motswana was raised by a farmer, it is our responsibility to ensure this noble vocation transitions to and thrives in the new era of climate change.
“Adapt and overcome is my new motto”
- Jack Osbourne