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Dry spells, heatwaves bewilder farmers

Prayer for rain: David Berman went on bended knees Wednesday at his field in Taung and beseeched God to 'please give us a few droplets'
Farmers across the country who had high hopes of good rains, following positive forecasts by authorities earlier in the season, are trudging off their fields, as young crops wilt under prolonged dry spells and unexpected heatwaves. Mmegi photojournalist, KENNEDY RAMOKONE surveyed the situation in the south

David Berman is the chairperson of the Metsimaswaane/Hukung farmers committee, an experienced farmer who has ridden the cycles of loss and profit in agriculture.

The sun is once again beating down on the fields in Taung, Ramotswa, incinerating Berman’s budding maize crops. For kilometres before arriving at Berman’s field, no other farmer or crop field is visible from the main roads.

It's clear as the unyielding skies. Farmers have given up. Few have planted while many have adopted a wait-and-see for the first rains that traditionally signal that ploughing can start. Experienced as Berman is, he is worried about the situation.

“We practise drought farming here,” he explains. “We received fertilisers and seeds from the agricultural demonstrators (molemisi) in whom I have much faith.

“However, our main challenge is lack of rainfall and these heatwaves.

“If the situation continues like this, our country is going to face a serious drought and famine this year. Drought farming cannot take us anywhere. We are going to end up in debts because we borrowed money thinking we would clear the obligations after harvesting.

“Instead, this year we are going end up in jail.” Berman believes the long-term answer lies in government extending support via irrigation.

“We are pleading with the government to assist us with irrigated farming because our land is very good for farming and our region is capable of feeding its people.

“People here are reluctant to farm due to the lack of water in our area. The youth who have benefited from government’s agricultural programmes end up giving up due to lack of water. This means government is just wasting money on these programmes.” Berman is unhappy about advice he claims farmers in the area received from the Department of Meteorological Services. “They told us to plant early maturing plants but look what is happening now.”

At a nearby field, Moipone Berman is equally running out of patience.

“I am a full time farmer and for me to survive I have to be here taking care of my fields.

“I am the only one who is taking care of the fields. Things were better when my husband was alive because he was very supportive.

“Now I am the only one weeding this field.

“If it wasn’t for the

heatwaves and poor rainfall, I was expecting to harvest more than 30 bags of maize and more than 10 bags of beans, but this year I don’t see anything like that.”

Like most farmers in the South, Moipone has fond memories of the last cropping season. Last February, Cyclone Dineo hit the country, bringing bountiful rain that helped yields in the South.  “Last year I got more than P30,000 from sweet reed and I expected the same this year. However, it seems things are not going to go according to plan.

“We better pack our bags and go back to the village because of this drought. “Maize is shrivelling and our last hopes are on the beans. We have been told that they can withstand dry spells, but this time I doubt.”

For Moipone, the benefits of ISPAAD, government’s agricultural inputs programme, will be lost to the heat and the wind this season.

“The agricultural demonstrators advised us to plant early maturing crops, but due to the heatwaves and poor rainfall, I don’t see ISPAAD having any benefit to us,” she said.

In Kweneng district, at Mmambapa lands near Thamaga, farmers are telling the same story. Goitseone Marotela says the area has not received rain this season and most farmers have not bothered to plant. Marotela has ploughed a 30 hectare field, received seed under ISPAAD and is waiting for the rain.

“We don’t expect much because we have not planted all.  “Initially we wanted to plant but due to low rainfall I don’t see that happening.

“We were assisted with seeds even though it came late. “To tell the truth, we are not expecting anything for now as you can see the situation,” she said. Matshidiso Pule at Diphephe, near Thamaga describes the season as “horrific”.

“I don’t want to talk much about this situation. As you can see, the fields are still red. We have ploughed but haven’t yet planted due to very poor rainfall in our region.

The last time we were blessed with rainfall was last year before Christmas, but hopefully it will rain as Radithupa Radithupa promised. “I plan to plant early maturing and drought-resistant plants like sorghum, beans and water melons, just in case it rains.”




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