While Matsiloje and other villages in its periphery are still smarting from the effects of the closure of a mine within their environs a few years back, the twin tragedies of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and El Niño are lingering on the horizon. Staff Writer LEBOGANG MOSIKARE reports
FRANCISTOWN: Pastoral farming in the Zone 6B area in the North East District (NED) is no longer the vocation that for yonks sustained many rural households. It now seems to be a curse that makes farmers wonder what pain it inflicts on their lives. Recently, farmers in the Zone 6B area woke up to bad news from the Ministry of Agriculture Development and Food Security (MADFS) that a herd of about 200 cattle from Zimbabwe, an FMD hotbed, had crossed the border into Matsiloje, Botswana.
Pastoral farmers in Botswana especially Matsiloje and surrounding villages need no explanation of what the cattle emigration from Zimbabwe into Botswana mean to their lives.
The cattle incursion left their minds lingering with thoughts of how FMD – a scourge that has affected them four times in the past and led to the culling of their cattle in some instances – would affect them this time.
The FMD threat is obviously a bitter pill to swallow for the farmers. In the past, government compensated the pastoral farmers with a blanket P1,700 notwithstanding the value of the cattle, breed and other factors after culling their cattle, an action that encompassed even those that were not infected with FMD. The farmers did not take that one size fits all lying down and in 2016, 48 farmers instructed attorneys Duma Boko and Miriro Furusa, to institute civil proceedings against the MADFS at the Francistown High Court.
The farmers wanted the court to review and set aside the government’s decision to carry out a wholesale slaughter of FMD-infected and uninfected cattle within the Zone 6 area.
They also wanted the court to declare that the decision taken by respondents to pay an amount of PI,700 per beast to the applicants for their slaughtered cattle, the conditions attached to the said payment and the entire manner of the determination of compensation to the applicants was unconstitutional and violated, amongst others, Sections 3, 4 and 8 of the Constitution of Botswana.
At the end of trial, Justice Barnabas Nyamadzabo ruled that: “The Director of Veterinary Service’s decision to order the slaughter of the applicants cattle during the FMD outbreak in and around June 2011 be and is set aside on account of it being unreasonable or irrational and or unfair having regard to the status of the applicants cattle at the time”. The amount of P1,700 was also set aside in favour of a “reasonably negotiated amount” or one assessed by the Registrar and Master of the High Court, Nyamadzabo ordered.
In the past the government of Botswana donated 473,200 doses of vaccine of FMD to help Zimbabwe contain an outbreak and ensure that the infectious disease does not spread into Botswana. However, the gesture for all its good intents and purposes seems to not have achieved its aims due to various reasons.
Amongst these reasons is the fact that the cordon fence along the border between pickets 5 and 8 is a hotspot of elephants, which usually destroy it along the Zimbabwe and Botswana borders making it easy for cattle infected with FMD from Zimbabwe to cross into Botswana. Another problem that the farmers and the police are still grappling with is the problem
For Simon Lephalo, an arable and pastoral farmer at Matsiloje, the recent incursion of cattle from Zimbabwe has sounded a death knell to the farming community in the whole Zone 6 area.
To Lephalo, a businessman and former councillor of Matsiloje, there seem to be no silver lining for farmers in Matsiloje and its vicinity.
It was clear from Lephalo’s cracking voice when speaking to Mmegi that the FMD misfortunes that have befallen the farmers over many years have wrecked havoc of gigantic proportions to the farming community of Matsiloje and neighbouring villages.
“Cattle from Zimbabwe have crossed the border into Botswana. They came to Botswana after elephants destroyed the fence along the Zimbabwe and Botswana borders. Personnel from the Department of Veterinary Services have told us to kraal our cattle in order for them to be vaccinated. They suspect that the cattle from Zimbabwe may have infected our cattle with FMD.”
Lephalo added: “As we speak right now (Wednesday) a lot of farmers are at their cattle posts doing what the officials from veterinary services advised them to do during a meeting that was held at Matsiloje Kgotla on Tuesday. We humbly ask God to forgive us if we sinned against him. God has punished us a lot in the past. We ask him to extend a measure of mercy upon us”.
In the past, farmers from Matsiloje and in other places in Botswana where elephants co-exist with people, have cried out about the cocktail of miseries that the pachyderms have occasioned on their lives.
The problems range from the elephants destroying farm fences, eating crops and in some dire instances killing people amongst other factors.
The current FMD curse happens in the aftermath of the announcement of an interrelated farming issue that will negatively affect the farmers this season. Recently, the Meteorological Services Department announced that signs are visible that another enemy of the farmers, El Niño, will rear its ugly head during the 2018/19 ploughing season.
For Lephalo, should the El Niño weather pattern happen, it would be tantamount to the proverbial last nail in the coffin of the farmers.
“In the past year, we harvested some crops but the harvest was not enough as compared to many years back. As farmers in Botswana, we are under attack from many fronts even from natural calamities. We don’t know where to escape. Our families are suffering because some households wholly depend on farming to earn a living,” said a despondent Lephalo.
Lephalo and his fellow farmers in the Matsiloje area are justified in feeling left at the mercy of terrible natural forces. Last year in November a powerful hailstorm devastated the villages leaving some residents without homes and forcing them to reside in tents that the government provided.
While other farmers around the country prepare their fields for what will be a difficult season, in Matsiloje, Lephalo and his colleagues are wondering what’s coming next.