SELEBI-PHIKWE: Minister of Agriculture Christiaan De Graaff says that government continues to put in place measures that will help Botswana meet her food security challenges.
Addressing Maokatuma residents, the minister said working with Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB), government will increase the strategic grain reserves for use in time of great difficulty, when the grains cannot be sourced from anywhere else.
He added that the strategic grain reserve, which used to be composed of sorghum at 10,000 metric tonnes will be increased and expanded to include sorghum at 30,000 metric tonnes, maize at 30,000 metric tonnes and beans at 10,000 metric tonnes.
He said that after realising that the Arable Land Development Programme (ALDEP) had not achieved its intended objective of increasing rainfed agricultural production and employment creation, government then decided to introduce a new programme known as the Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD).
"Assistance under this programme will include free seed, up to a maximum of 16 hectares and farmers requiring seed for more than 16 hectares will receive a 50 percent subsidy on additional seed."
The minister added that in addition, farmers will be provided with free fertiliser up to five hectares per farmer and thereafter a subsidy of 50 percent up to a maximum of 16 hectares. The government has also decided to provide 100 percent ploughing and planting subsidy for a maximum of five hectares per farmer. Thereafter, farmers will be provided with a subsidy of 50 percent up to a maximum of 16 hectares, according to De Graaff.
He indicated that government will also assist with a programme known as cluster fencing where goat-proof fences for clusters of fields will be constructed along the concept of enclosed drift fences. "The government will provide materials and use labour- intensive methods to construct the fence. The fence will then be handed over to farmers after construction and maintenance and will become the responsibility of farmers."
He highlighted that a cluster will consist of a number of adjacent fields, comprising not less than 150 hectares and owners will have to agree to form such clusters to benefit from the new scheme.
He said government would also drill and equip boreholes for potable water within the identified clusters and water will strictly be used for household drinking
Minister De Graaff further noted that agricultural service centres would be established and the ministry will start with 15 such centres in strategic arable production locations. The centres will provide draught power, seed, fertilisers and extension advice to farmers.
"Realising that government will not be able to get enough tractors to plough for farmers, those with tractors and other agricultural implements will be engaged to provide the service on agreed conditions. Also, to facilitate access to credit by farmers, government has decided to establish a fund through the National Development Bank (NDB), to assist farmers with seasonal loans at prime interest rates. For farmers to qualify for such loans, they will have to carry credit insurance."
He stated that the ministry's intention is to encourage commercial livestock rearing and to achieve the goal, the ministry is shifting from oxen-based production to weaner production and will also promote feedlots. The ministry is pursuing several response measures to assist farmers respond to high food prizes around the world. This includes assisting small herd size communal farmers with water and utilisation of state farms that have been under-utilised for commercial livestock production, he said.
De Graaf, however, said one of the major concerns in the farming community is lack of infrastructure in production areas in the form of roads, electricity, water and others but said the ministry is developing an infrastructure initiative implementation strategy that will guide the provision of infrastructure during National Development Plan 10 (NDP-10).
He emphasised that government alone cannot meet the challenges facing the agricultural sector, hence the community must get involved.
He said he is mostly worried at the lack of commitment by farmers to their farming enterprise, so he has instructed his officials to only attend to serious farmers. "Even for the assistance programmes that I have elaborated, if farmers do not show commitment and abandon their fields they will not be considered for assistance the following year," he declared.
The minister was addressing residents in Bobonong, Maokatuma and Machaneng.