A comedy of errors choked the farming activities in Mmadinare this season resulting in effective usage of government- sponsored programmes. With a low harvest bearing down, Staff Writer ONALENNA MODIKWA KELEBEILE finds morose farmers already counting their losses.
As the ploughing seasons ends this week, despair has set in in Mmadinare, as most farmers are yet to plant, despite tilling the soil last October.
Yields are expected to be lower than the previous year and farmers blame the tractor owners engaged by government to till their fields, under the Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agricultural Development (ISPAAD).
Under the revised programme, farmers are assisted with concessionary or whole discounts for hybrid seeds, fertilisers, herbicides and tillage, depending on the scale of their operations.
It has emerged, however, that in Mmadinare, the fortunes of the hundreds of farmers who received ISPAAD assistance lie between a rock and a hard place.
During the 2013/14 ploughing season, 508.8 hectares were row planted in Mmadinare North while 320 hectares were planted in Mmadinare South. Farmers expect figures to be significantly lower this season.
Mmadinare North Farmers’ Association Committee chairman, Motshegetsi Mogotsi says tractor owners did not till and plant as agreed as they rushed to plough many fields in order to cash in on the government’s reward.
Since ISPAAD’s own tractors are unable to cover all farmers, government contracts out tractor owners and pays them P800 per hectare for ploughing and row planting, P500 for minimal tillage and P360 for harrowing.
“The understanding is that once a tractor owner has ploughed and marked hectares in a field, no other tractor can plant that land,” says Mogotsi.
“As a result many fields were ploughed but not planted because the tractor owners wanted to plough as many fields as possible without also planting.
“Government should consider separating the package of ploughing from planting so that one tractor owner can be engaged for ploughing and the other for planting.”
The farmers’ association chair believes that while ISPAAD was a “very noble idea” especially for those without farming implements, those in the Mmadinare area have not fully benefitted from it this ploughing season.
“In some instances, tractor owners did not even know how to use the farming machinery resulting in shoddy jobs.
“In other instances, there was a shortage of farming implements such as planters particularly when farmers needed them most after the first rains.
“It is quite expensive for ordinary farmers to buy their own planters and perhaps service centres could be set up in the villages so that farmers access implements easily.”
Those farmers, who did manage to secure timely ploughing and planting services, then encountered problems with the provision of seeds. The provision of the seeds was outsourced to a private company, with farmers using vouchers to acquire their supplies.
The problem? The vouchers regularly ran out!
“It took time for farmers to get seeds as the process was a bit cumbersome especially for the elderly,” says Mogotsi.
“One had to receive a voucher then go to the other end of the village to get seeds from Seed Co and then travel back to the agriculture officer to submit the invoice. “Some gave up on the way especially when they could not get vouchers.”
It is understood 510 farmers in Mmadinare North managed to receive seeds last year but this year, only 40 reported that they planted early. By the same time last year, over 200 farmers had planted.
Those fortunate few who were able to procure tillage and seeds, then had to confront an outbreak of weeds that emerged after the first rains of the season. The chemicals farmers were provided with proved ineffective.
The farmers of Mmadinare who may actually see produce from their fields this season, may not be in the clear. Another threat is looming.
“We are bracing for destruction of crops by elephants as we already hear that they were seen in the nearby areas.
“This would spell doom because they leave heartbreaking trails of destruction,” said one farmer.
Elephants, which are frequently spotted in the Mmadinare area, trampled crops in the 2013 farming season and it is reported that some of the affected farmers are yet to receive compensation as the relevant department “ran out of funds”.
Those farmers are now waiting for the new financial year, starting in April.
Agriculture officials, for their part, say the challenges that have faced Mmadinare farmers this season are not insurmountable.
Firstly, the issue of tractor owners not completing their contracted tasks will not be tolerated, says director of crop production, Galeitsiwe Taelo Ramokapane.
“Any tractor owner who ploughed but failed to plant will not be paid. The programme dictates that the package must be complete. We do not encourage such practices and no payment can be effected because they cost farmers a harvest,” he says.
Ramokapane explains that herbicides or chemicals to kill weeds are not stockpiled, hence the introduction of vouchers. “Farmers are issued with vouchers depending on the weed in their fields and they have to prove that they are skilled in handling the chemicals or that someone qualified will do it.
“In addition, it must be remembered that not all weeds need to be controlled with chemicals,” he said.
Cold comfort to the hundreds of farmers who watched the recent end of the ploughing season with the knowledge that precious little or no produce would be coming out of their fields this season.