Drought-stricken Borolong braces for rains

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Farmers in Borolong were among the hardest hit by the successive droughts that blasted the southern parts of the country. As other areas have received rain this season, the region is still behind. However, Mmegi Correspondent, TUMELO MOUWANE notes that as they await the rains, farmers are once again hopeful.

After the positive forecasts of rainfall for the Southern parts of the country, as issued by the Meteorological Services Department in September, farmers in Borolong have been looking to the skies.

The region suffered badly with the rest of the country from the droughts in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, which decimated agricultural production and sent at least six heatwaves searing across the country.

However, authorities at the Met Services say 2016-2017 will be different.  Already their forecasts have proven correct in equally-blighted areas such as Ramotswa and Mochudi and the experts say rainy days are due in Borolong before the end of November.

As one leaves Lobatse heading far south of Borolong district, it is evident that if rains do not fall in time, the drought that has enveloped the region will deepen.

As one travels to the district, two cattle carcasses lie in the sun on the left-hand side of the road. They have obviously been there for a while and the vultures have feasted.

October and November rains have greened areas in the South East, Kgatleng and Kweneng, but here there are no pastures for the large herds of cattle owned predominantly by communal farmers.  Cattle are in poor condition and farmers in the district simply do not have enough feed.

Well-fenced but dusty fields lie in rows along the road and under the burning sun, it is clear there is no water to quench the animals’ thirst  and barely enough for the residents of Borolong.

The centre of the huge district, Goodhope, which acts mainly as a host of government buildings and facilities, is simultaneously, a village and a farming hub.  Here, one beast lies with its legs in the air, having apparently given up the fight for survival a few days before. Eagles are in attendance, pecking away at bones in a reminder of the circle of life.

As the Mmegi team travels further into the district towards, Metlojane village, matters get worse. Small dams are dry. Cattle, donkeys and goats assemble at one specific site they used to rely on for water, but there are precious few drops for all.

It is clear that, if rains do not begin falling, Barolong’s hopes for a better harvest in 2017 will be a pipe dream.

Despite the dry skies and dusty earth, farmers in the area are motivated. They believe the rains will fall in better amounts in line with the Metrological Department’s forecasts.

Thapelo Moilwa, a communal farmer in Tlhareselele village, is hopeful that this season will bring improved fortunes.

“It has been several years without benefiting anything that I can write home about from my fields,” he says.

“The weather has changed over the years and the soil no longer produces enough.

“We meet every Tuesday at the Kgotla to pray for rain and that’s only where our hopes lie.”

Despite his optimism, Moilwa’s livestock and their condition keep him awake at night.

“We could have ploughed enough for our cattle to feed on in times such as this one.  However, when you don’t harvest enough for the pot, what could possibly be there for the cattle? The plants died in their infancy.”

Goodhope village senior headman, Mooketse Marumoloa is equally concerned.  He says Barolong showed courage to maintain their passion in farming even when the drought was at its worst.

“Last year, Barolong went out in large numbers to plough.  They were very courageous and believed that by the end of the year, they would benefit.

“Nature took its course and the rains were not there.  They came late.  The plants died at infant stages and there was less than nothing to harvest.

“Others in the country gave up when the sun scorched their young plants, but Barolong as I know them, will be gathered here at Goodhope Kgotla in very large numbers to head into the next ploughing season.

“We pray for rain, and we are hopeful it will fall.”

Marumoloa says a number of cattle have fallen victim to the drought.

“We are receiving reports of cattle stuck in muddy dams.  They go there to drink whatever is left, then get stuck in the mud and die.

“If this rain doesn’t come shortly, we will be engulfed by drought. However, we are people of hope and we hope the clouds will open shortly, “ he says.

Goodhope Agricultural Research Centre station manager, Oduetse Chepete, explains that the previous ploughing season was saved from being a complete disaster, only by late rains in April.  Most crops had already wilted in their infancy, however.  The centre’s mandate is to conduct research and provide technical advice to other agricultural departments including the Crop Production Unit.

“Only cowpeas and groundnuts as well as other long rooted species survived the scorching sun.

“In our trial field, we had given up on everything.  The rains which fell towards March however helped cowpeas, groundnuts and other related crops to survive.

“Maize totally wilted and if the same situation takes place this time around, farmers are going to come out of the season empty-handed.”

The district is hoping the Met Services Department’s forecasts of rain in a few weeks are spot-on, to provide relief from the desperation of the past two years.

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