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What are farmers to do?

Despite their tag as the first-borns of Botswana, farmers seem to be getting the short end of the stick, in terms of accurate, timely and relevant advice from research and policy developers.

Before the mining miracle triggered by the finds in Orapa, farmers were this country’s economic backbone and even today, agriculture is the country’s largest employer and potentially a principal avenue for diversification.

However, as the worst rain season in 34 years settles across the country, research and policy developers are conspicuously quiet in terms of preparing farmers, particularly the struggling subsistence folk who make up the majority and bear the responsibility for supporting most families in Botswana.

Even as we are mid December – a period when tillage activities should be gathering momentum – it is unclear whether authorities in the Agriculture Ministry have adequately prepared and informed farmers in systematic manner, about the challenges expected this rain season.

To their benefit, Agriculture minister and his charges have traversed the length and breadth of the country addressing Kgotla meetings and advising farmers on ways to avoid losses, in light of the forecast poor rains.

They urged farmers to avoid planning maize and rather opt for sorghum and pearl millet, which can better resist harsh weather conditions. They also urged farmers to devise various water harvesting mechanisms to heighten water conservation.

Noble as these efforts are, they are episodic and disjointed and the exact opposite of what is required, which is a scorched-earth, border-to-border educational campaign coupled with tangible policy tweaks to the ISPAAD programme, government’s main agricultural support instrument.

Simply put, the assistance

farmers receive under ISPAAD should be reviewed to nudge farmers towards the interventions required to avoid crop failure, financial losses and food insecurity due to poor rains. ISPAAD’s millions should not benefit farmers who insist on planting maize exclusively in inefficient and disproved methods, such as those practising broadcast planting. The inputs, from tillage services, to seeds and herbicides, should be aligned with the research policy decision to avert crop failure by encouraging the planting of drought resistance crop varieties and assisting national food security. It should also be remembered that paradigm-shifting educational campaigns of this nature require time to filter through to the grassroots. Farmers, particularly those in the areas due to be worst affected, should by this stage be intimately aware of what to do this season, in order to avoid very real crop and financial losses. It should also be remembered that the method of ISPAAD’s transmission, through cumbersome bureaucracy, has always been inefficient and been regularly cited as one of the programme’s limiting factors.

Before we blame the country’s first borns for next year’s crop failures, we need to ask whether we researched adequately and efficiently transmitted the warnings to them in a timely manner.


Today’s thought

“Agriculture not only gives riches to a nation, but the only riches she can call her own.”

 - Samuel Johnson


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