While the 2017/18 cropping season produced a 78% cereal deficit, things are about to get a lot worse for local farmers and the communities dependent on agriculture. A nasty rainfall season has been forecast and experts expect even more people to be reliant on government for help. Mmegi Correspondent GOITSEMODIMO KAELO reports
Recently, government announced it would spend nearly P900 million on various drought relief interventions, assessments of the 2017/18 yields necessitated the declaration of a drought year.
The funds will include support for rural households whose incomes were decimated by a poor season, the hopeful rainfall forecasts that were made giving way to a prolonged dry spell that devastated all hopes. Specifically government will pay 30% of the seasonal loans to farmers who got loans from CEDA and the National Development Bank, to mitigate losses, while also providing support to vulnerable households, orphans and primary school children.
Each year government pumps at least P600 million into subsidised agricultural inputs for farmers and for many of those years, rainfall and other factors conspire to crush output, leaving government again having to provide millions more in drought relief.
There is no question that crop production in Botswana is not performing up to optimum levels as the country, even in a good year, only produces a fraction of its demand.
The government’s recently released Crops Drought Assessment and Vulnerability report paints a gloomy future of food prices rising sharply for the rest of the year.
Senior agricultural scientific officer, Lekgatlhanye Kanelo explained that due to delayed rains in the past cropping season, the total area planted across the country was 185,680 hectares with communal farmers accounting for 139, 980 hectares and commercial farmers the balance of 45,700 hectares.
The report showed that the most planted cereal crop was maize at 65,260ha, followed by sorghum at 49,120ha, cowpeas at 30,510 and millet at 27, 490 ha.
“Due to late rains, many farmers planted late. However most of the crops could not mature well as they were affected by frost as
He continued: “The estimates for cereal production stood at 87,762 metric tonnes or a 30% drop. The overall crop production for both commercial and subsistence farming indicates that the country has a 78% deficit of its cereal requirement”.
According to the report, a large number of Batswana have been rendered food insecure as a result of the weak harvest. Worse still, of the 55,358 who qualified to benefit from the poverty eradication programme, only 29,113 were funded.
The socio economic status of the beneficiaries has been stagnant and their livelihoods have not shown any evidence of improvement.
Matters are expected to worsen in the next six months, as it is anticipated that the yield deficit will increase next due to the effect of the impending El Nino phenomenon.
Adding salt to the wound, is news that the upcoming rainfall season will be plagued by the devastating El Nino phenomenon. El Nino is expected to make an appearance early in November and strengthen for the rest of the season, causing low rainfall and heatwaves around the country.
National silos and individual household’s granaries, which are already running low, will be decimated by the expected poor yields. Those not directly affected by agricultural activities will see higher prices in the shops, as regional output from the upcoming season is expected to be low.
The Agriculture Ministry has forecast an increase in prices of food and other essential household items, eroding consumers’ disposable incomes.
Authorities are already talking about increasing the Ipelegeng quota by 3,000 slots to cater for referred eligible beneficiaries.
A difficult summer approaches and the entire economy is bracing for it.