The Ministry of Agriculture is seeking P100 million in supplementary funding to restock the strategic grain reserves this year, after yet another poor national harvest. An authoritative global report released this week suggests this is just the beginning of the climate change costs the country will suffer. Staff Writer, MBONGENI MGUNI reports
In the next few weeks, the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security, will lead three other ministries, all cap in hand to the Finance Ministry for additional funding to cover the costs of the failed 2017/18 cropping season.
Collectively, the four ministries require P856 million to contain the impact of last season’s drought, but the Agriculture Ministry alone requires P100 million to restock the country’s strategic grain reserves.
The strategic grain reserves are the country’s last bastion of food security, when the shelves have run dry and when the silos have emptied; literally the line between life and death for many.
At minimum, the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) is required to keep 10, 000 metric tonnes of sorghum, 10, 000 metric tonnes of maize and 2, 000 metric tonnes of beans. During years of bumper harvest, the reserves may fill up and contain up to 30, 000 metric tonnes of sorghum, 30, 000 metric tonnes of maize and 10, 000 metric tonnes of beans.
This filling up, however, is happening less and less. What is occurring more frequently are stronger droughts, heatwaves and flooding, which all interact to collapse agricultural yields and force the BAMB to import for its strategic reserves.
In recent years, droughts struck in 2014/15 and 2015/16, while in 2017/18, a prolonged dry spell in the middle of the season devastated crop production activities countrywide. The 2015/16 drought is notable for its intensity, the historic drying of Gaborone Dam and for raising temperatures to a 46-year high in parts of the country. The 2016/17 season is notable for Cyclone Dineo, which caused countrywide flooding and major infrastructure damage, including loss of life due to disease.
Experts agree that the frequency of these extreme weather events will only increase and intensify going forward for Botswana.
“Climate change is a priority for this country and we are aligning ourselves to that as well,” says Meteorological Services director, Radithupa Radithupa.
“One of the impacts of climate change is a high frequency of droughts, heatwaves and flooding in other areas.
“We have to build resilience in our communities; we need to improve.”
Climate change, or the gradual change in global or regional climate patterns, seen since the mid to late 20th century and caused by higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels, is emerging as Botswana’s next existential threat, greater than the one posed by HIV/AIDS in the 1990s.
This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a mammoth report essentially showing that the globe is on the brink of a climate change disaster and has reached a now-or-never point of ameliorating the extinction-level effects. The IPCC is a United Nations agency consisting of scientists from member states across the world. These include University of Botswana environmental science professor and PHD-holder, Opha Pauline Dube, who is lead author on one of the IPCC report’s chapters.
Global media ran front-page headlines this week on the IPCC report, many focussing on the finding that the world has about 12 years to get climate change under control, or face life-changing impacts.
Botswana, unfortunately, sits in a belt which will receive the worst of the impact from climate change. According to the IPCC report, Botswana, parts of South Africa and Namibia will experience the highest increases in temperature in Africa, as climate change intensifies globally.
“At (an increase of) 2°C, the region is projected to face robust precipitation decreases of about 10-20% and increases in the length of CDD (dry days) with longer dry spells projected over Namibia, Botswana, northern Zimbabwe and southern Zambia,” the report reads. On Tuesday, four climate scientists from the African Climate and Development Initiative based at the University of Cape Town, said a global increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius would lead to average temperature increases of 2.2 degrees Celsius for Botswana, while a two degree Celsius increase at global level, would lead to a 2.8 degree Celsius change for Botswana.
“Changes in rainfall are also projected to
“At 1.5°C of global warming, Botswana would receive five percent less annual rainfall, and Namibia four percent less.
“At 2.0°C global warming, annual rainfall in Botswana would drop by nine percent, with annual rainfall in Namibia dropping by seven percent. Dry spells and heatwaves would also become the order of the day.
“At global warming of 1.5°C, projections show Botswana having 10 more dry days per year. That number rises to 17 extra dry days at 2.0°C global warming. “For Namibia, dry days increase by 12 at global warming of 1.5°C, and by 17 at 2.0°C.
“The impact of global warming on extreme events is also evident.
“Both countries can expect roughly 50 more days of heatwaves at 1.5°C global warming, and about 75 more heatwave days at 2.0°C global warming.”
The researchers said the spillover effects of climate change on agriculture, health and water, meant adaption and the development of resilience at national level were urgent priorities.
“In Botswana, at 1.5 degree Celsius global warming, maize yields could drop by over 20%. At 2.0 degree Celsius global warming, yields could slump by 35%. Rain-fed agriculture is already marginal across much of the country, and anticipated climate change may well make current agricultural practices unviable at 1.5 degree Celsius and above.”
Climate change’s spillover effects on the broader quality of life, is the reason why the Agriculture ministry is not alone in reaching out for help from the Finance Ministry. The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development will need P110 million to increase the numbers in Ipelegeng by at least 3,000, as more Batswana turn to government for help having failed at the fields.
The same ministry has set aside P600 million for supplementary school feeding to all primary schools and a second meal in all Remote Area Communities primary schools. The funding is also for provision of food rations to vulnerable groups. An amount of P3.55 million will also go towards urgent food relief packages in the North East, Mabutsane, North West, Okavango and Kgalagadi.
The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism needs P9.9 million to compensate farmers for destruction by wildlife, while the Health Ministry needs P1.5 million to reintroduce the direct feeding initiative for children in areas with high prevalence of malnutrition.
Climate change’s growing impact is clear from a recent Vulnerability Assessment Report showing that the numbers of the food insecure in Botswana has been rising since 2013/14 from about 29,000 to a peak of 57,411 in 2016/17. Between April 2018 and March 2019, government estimates that 35,000 people will require food assistance.
Climate change is hurting the poorest and most vulnerable in particular, with recent UNICEF and SADC reports showing an uptick in children affected by severe and acute malnutrition, as well as stunting in Botswana. Trends in low birth weights and wasting are also pointing to poor nutritional outcomes and health issues associated with the effects of perennial droughts.
Besides this year’s P856 million, hundreds of millions more will have to be invested on an ongoing basis across agriculture, local government, health and other sectors to contain the impact of climate change.
Policymakers are stressing that more investment in resilience and adaptation is equally essential, alongside the spending on the effects of extreme weather.
At the Meteorological Services department, the emphasis is on strengthening early warning systems, while at agriculture, the focus is on alternative crop varieties, research and adaptive planting methods and technology.
The Environment Ministry’s long awaited climate change policy is yet to surface in Parliament, meaning the nature and cost implications of government’s climate change interventions are not yet known.
The Environment minister, Tshekedi Khama, however, says the emphasis will be on lifting the burden on the country’s poorest. “Those who suffer the most are those who are contributing the least to causing climate change; the poor and most vulnerable members of our society,” he said previously.