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Climate change brings fresh threat to local farmers

Climate change continues to exert pressure on water resources and related sectors, especially crop production, which is mostly rain-fed in Botswana. The recent advice from the Department of Meteorological Services that farmers must stop ploughing as Botswana was going through a dry-spell could be an omen for the country’s trying times ahead, writes BABOKI KAYAWE

The Department of Meteorological Services (DMS) forecast that traditional rainy months of January to March would be unusually dry this year has surely pierced the hearts of those who till the land like a poisoned arrow.

The ever-escalating costs of food, inadequate rains and extreme temperatures are a concern to every fine-minded citizen given the human metabolism’s daily call for food and nutrition.

Mmegi asked whether his prediction is a manifestation of climate change.  Meteorological Services director Thabang Botshoma, says while dry spells are a common feature in a semi-arid climate, the prevailing weather condition cannot be associated with changes in rainfall patterns.

Instead, he calls for studies to establish linkages between any different weather phenomena such as dry spells and rainfall patterns.

“Such studies are yet to be conducted,” he says.  However, he admits that extreme weather events such as dry-spells, droughts, heat waves, floods, and storms are becoming more frequent with a changing climate.

Unpredictable weather conditions such as pro-longed dry spells among others would have negative impacts on agricultural produce.

“Agriculture in Botswana is mostly rain-fed and therefore dependent on climate hence high temperatures and reduced rainfall and frequent droughts are threats to the country’s food security.

“Just like crops, grasslands or rangeland will also be affected by climate change resulting in loss of productivity in livestock,” says Botshoma. Though the climatic condition has been unfavourable for subsistence agriculture for quite some time now, heightened situations would have daring social and economic implications, explained Botshoma.

Asked whether he thinks farmers had access to adequate education on the issue of climate change given its technicalities, he believes a lot of effort has been taken to talk to various farmers about climate change.  “Results of the collaboration with farmers are the climate change related technologies suggested by the farmers themselves in order to mitigate climate change impacts,” he adds.

A product of this collaboration was the Technology Needs Assessment report of 2004 that looks into practical techno-inspired ways to adapt and mitigate to climate change.

Still, Botshoma believes there is need to maintain continued collaboration with farmers since the farming community is growing.

He dismisses as unfounded the perception that his department and the Ministry of Agriculture are operating as fragmented entities. “The department maintains strong working

relations with the Ministry of Agriculture aimed at ensuring food security for the nation.

“Over the last decade, the department and Ministry of Agriculture have conducted climate change vulnerability assessment studies in an effort to come up with climate change adaptation and mitigation options within the agriculture sector,” he says.

One such study looks into the vulnerability assessment to the impacts of climate change on crop production. It reveals that maize and sorghum, being the primary crop food in Botswana, occupy about 75 percent of the total agricultural cropland, and cultivated by all the farming sectors (about 70 percent by communal farmers and 30 percent by commercial farmers).  It further shows a 30 percent decrease in yield as the temperature increases and rainfall reduces.  “Agricultural production and food security in Botswana are likely to be severely compromised by climate variability and climate change threatening the attainment of the MDGs,” the study states.  

Botshoma says the Ministry of Agriculture is a member of the National Committee on Climate Change and they are a major stakeholder in the seasonal forecasts.  “The department participates in Agricultural Shows/Exhibitions workshops as a stakeholder and uses the opportunity to talk about climate related issues. “When the seasonal forecast is issued to farmers, officers from the Ministry of Agriculture become part of the team that disseminates the forecasts,” says Botshoma.

The adage ‘water is life’ rings truer now than ever, as humanity lives in the 11th hour.

Botshoma explains that water is a major concern in the wake of climate change as high evaporation and changing rainfall patterns will put more stress on the already scarce water resource in Botswana.

“Climate change will worsen existing problems of water scarcity and affect water-reliant sectors,” he says.

The excruciating ramification is the drying up of surface water bodies due to high evaporation rates. This (the ramification) is associated with high temperatures, increased water demand for human consumption including for industrial and agricultural use and soil erosion, Botshoma explains further.

Currently, his department is working with the Ministry of Agriculture in a project funded by Southern African Development Community to carry out a situational analysis on climate change adaptation and mitigation, whose outcome would assist Botswana to identify possibilities for conservation agriculture.




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