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Determination and despair in a season of no rain

GREG KELEBONYE NNASARETHA KGAMANYANE
The Department of Meteorological Services (DMS) recently warned the rains would be scarce this season. Very little is expected during the months of January to March.

These are months during which Botswana farmers, most of whom rely on rainfall, expect their crops to be nearing maturity.

With a gloomy forecast as provided by the DMS, it is doubtful if the country will produce a bumper harvest as it did last year. 

Very little rain, lack of ploughing implements in light of government’s well-intended insistence on row planting and lack of determination by many farmers point to a depressing, even a drought year.

“The situation this year is most dismal.  For example we have only been able to plough half of the usual hectarage,” says Idoh Dintwe, a farmer in Dikwididi, Kgatleng District.

Dintwe says a number of issues conspired against farmers this year. “First there was the issue of very poor rains. Not only has there been little rain, but it also came late, thus delayed many farmers from ploughing.

“Secondly, for those who wanted to plough there is a serious shortage of tractors and implements. The Ministry of Agriculture did not make it any easier for either the tractor owners or the farmers.

It failed to pay on time, which would allow tractor owners to service their tractors and buy fuel. Then there was the perennial shortage of seeds and fertilisers. These made it difficult for any work to be done,” she says. 

Dintwe believes that while government’s insistence on row planting is well intended, the system is not prepared to fully service the farmers.

“What government needs to do is to go into partnership with various people and tractor owners.

“It should give tenders to people who have the ability to supply seeds to farmers and tractor owners. This will reduce delays in provision of seeds,” she argues.

She believes a tractor owner should be assigned a specific number of fields in a given locale and be supervised closely to ensure he meets his target.

Dintwe reasons that in the absence of a working system, government should allow farmers to use the broadcasting method of planting.

“What’s the point in insisting on row planting when at the end of the day what is produced is even less than what would have been harvested if people were using the broadcasting method?” she asks rhetorically.

“Our hope is that it rains in the next seven days, otherwise we should brace ourselves for a drought year.”

Government has set a January 30 deadline for ploughing and planting in southern Botswana.

It is doubtful however, even assuming it rained for the duration of the remaining seven days, that any reasonable amount of ploughing could be done on the many fallow fields  throughout Kgatleng District.

The situation is the same in Gakuto, Gamononyane and Mantsie areas in Kweneng District.  However there is determination, even defiance among the farmers here.

Take Nkosi Ratua, of Gamononyane lands for example. Realising he would not be able to plough this year owing to late rains and shortage of tractors and necessary implements, Ratua decided to go for the broadcasting method.

He knew the government would not pay for the two hectares he chose to plough using the method, but was prepared to pay the tractor owner.

“There are too many challenges associated with row planting.

There is the perpetual complaint by tractor owners that they do not have money for diesel.

“This causes a lot of delays in the whole process, as by the time they find money, rains would have passed,” he says.

He says he has always applied the broadcasting method, and has had a reasonable harvest.

“Imagine if I just waited for this tractor which just came today. I would have done nothing,” he says, pointing to a red tractor working on the remaining two hectares of the field.

“I have used government assistance to plough the remaining two hectares, but as you can see, it is already late.

“God knows if there will be any rain,” he says, as a 100m away, the tractor raises plumes of

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dust from the already dry field.

A little distance from where we stand two women are busy hoeing. Determination is written on their faces as their hoes methodically slash at the notorious mmabasete weed. They pause to exchange greetings as we approach.

“Yes we have heard that there will be little rain, as there indeed already is, but that should not stop us planting and hoping that God will give us rain,” says Sekhana Tshiamo as she goes back to work, apologising for talking while working.

Like Ratua, Sekhana did not wait for government assistance although she has used row planting.

However, notable in Sekhana’s field is the apparent lack of knowledge in the use of tractors and planters by the tractor operator who worked her field.

The uneven rows, empty spaces and plants that are too clustered, demonstrate inexperience at its best. Nonetheless, Sekhana is not discouraged. “At least it is better than  nothing,” she says.

She then adds, as she points across the Molepolole highway: “But you should really see my younger sister’s field across the road”.

And indeed, Mmamphacho’s field is a marvel. Rows and rows of succulent bean plants line 10 of the 20-hectares of the field. The bean plants are laden with equally rich pods and promising yellow flowers.

“Together with my three children we took up government assistance. When the first rains came, we went to work. As you can see I am about to harvest my crop,” she says.

In the other 10 hectares, Mmamphacho has planted maize, sorghum, watermelons and sweet reed. She did not mix, but demarcated a separate hectorage for each plant type.

 

She hopes to get a very good harvest from this year’s produce despite the threat of low rainfall.

“Planting early helps.  This is advice we always get from radio and should take,” she says.

Last year, Mmamphacho planted only two hectares of beans. The return shocked her.

“I had 26 bags and a decent amount of money after I sold to Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board,” she says. 

By 26 bags she means 50 kilogramme bags, which translates to 1,300 kilogrammes or 1.3 metric tonnes. That strengthened her resolve, hence her planting 10 hectares this year. 

Mmamphacho says farming is her only means of survival, therefore she gives it her best  effort.

“I left the city to be a farmer and I have no regrets. I hope I become some inspiration to other women,” she says.

While Mmamphacho celebrates her crop, a few kilometres north of her farm another woman rues the days she engaged a tractor operator with unsuitable implements.

“I am not sure if it was really a case of the planter not being suited to planting the type of beans we have as it crushed them. Nothing has grown in that hectare as you can see,” complained Mmaabo Montsho of Gakuto lands. 

It is the first time she has attempted row planting and it has turned out to be a disaster.

 “I am not happy at all and I wish I had used my usual broadcasting method. As you can see these plants, the tractor drivers are not skilled in their use of the machinery”. She argues the government should train tractor drivers to plant properly if it still maintains its policy of row planting.

“From the fields around, with the exception of a few only, it is clear the drivers do not have enough experience to plough.”

She reasons that the training should be available throughout the year, and should not be a crash course that the Botswana College of Agriculture offers.

Considering the fact the rains will not come, Montsho has not lost hope.

“No, we cannot afford to lose hope,” she says.

As the sun sets far in the horizon, the air remains eerily still, and the temperatures uncomfortably hot.

Plants, animals and humans alike look to the skies for a respite. Will it come any time soon?



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