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An observation of the current budget speech’s prioritisation of agribusiness and the questions that should be asked

As was the case with his predecessors, food self-sufficiency remains a topical issue still under Masisi’s regime.

Uncontrollable factors such as poor rainfalls, drought, climate change continue to dampen Botswana’s efforts of ever being fully self-sufficient.

As if the country had not had enough natural impediments to the food self-sufficiency goal, COVID-19 as is the case with other sectors presented unintended consequences due to the need to temporarily close borders amongst other factors. In hindsight, this presented a blessing in disguise for the agricultural sector at mention as now we had to really stand on our feet and somewhat cater to the local agricultural demands.

Subsequently, the current times demand of the agricultural and food security sector to step up and commercialise the sector to a greater extent. This week we explore the promotion of agri-business and food self-sufficiency through import restrictions. This will be against the backdrop of what it is we produce in Botswana, whether it is sufficient, what we should consider and most importantly if the budget to the sector is sustainable? We will also make considerations of what should be done.

The Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security was allocated the 6th largest share of the proposed development budget at P978.5m making up 6.63% of the total development budget. This proposed development budget allocated by and large caters for an array of agricultural needs such as horticultural production to livestock farming.  The proposed recurrent budget on the one hand is estimated at P1.39bn.

 The allocation according to the Minister is intended at supporting an improved domestic food production as well as promotion of food self-sufficiency efforts in agricultural produce. Beyond the budget being subventions to various governmental agencies such as the National Agricultural Research and Development Institute (NARDI), it also extends to having a budget for Food and Mouth Disease. Beyond just cattle vaccinations, it also caters for Botswana Meat Commission operational costs. 

We have seen the figures allocated to the said ministry yes as highlighted above, however realistically speaking, do these efforts translate to meeting the agricultural needs of Batswana? We have also seen in the past what double-edged sword impromptu import restrictions are although intended for the greater good of the locals and economy.

Currently, the indefinite closure of borders due to Covid-19 left the local market strained and unable to meet some of the produce demand. As it is, there has been an evident shortage of spinach produce for weeks now. What would it take, you may wonder for us as a country with all the structural and financial support for us to become fully self-sufficient such that when our neighbours sneeze we do not necessarily catch a cold?

In the speech, the Minister indicated that the growth of the agribusiness would be facilitated by food self-sufficiency. Unlike food

security which is the access for all people at all times to enough food for a healthy and active life, food self-sufficiency is defined as the ability to meet consumption needs for staple foods from own production instead of buying or importing. Its primary importance is in establishing a country’s ability to independently meet the dietary needs of its population, regardless of external circumstances.

Under the current economic climate, it is understandable why there is prioritisation of substituting the import of grains and cereals through local purchase requirements thresholds.

There remains, however the question of where the grains will be acquired from. If we are to become self-sufficient, this should ideally be accompanied by food sovereignty, for prolonged sustainability, and to better and more effectively benefit local farmers.

Food sovereignty is effectively the system by which the people who produce, distribute and consume food also control the mechanisms and policies of food distribution.

Food self-sufficiency and food security advance models which advance a corporate food regime, in which corporations and market institutions dominate the food system in a country, and creates an unnecessary dependence. A food sovereignty approach benefits and empowers tribal members to grow their own healthy, fresh produce and ease low food insecurity. It also creates a more sustainable model of grain production than the one that currently exists.

In the current model, tribal farmers are provided seed on an annual basis by the council, where they cannot, as was historically the case, reproduce seed for themselves. To this extent, they have no control of the types of seeds that go into their land, and the impact they will have in the long term.Further, for many Batswana who primarily have agriculture as their livelihood what does this financial year’s budget allocation mean to them?

As it is, the Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Programme (ISPAAD) is currently under review to be replaced by a supposedly more effective and sustainable programme. The notorious ISPAAD programme has been running for as long as we can remember, and with the many ministerial faces that changed under the said ministry, the tune of ‘helping attain food self-sufficiency’ has been consistently the same; although on the contrary self-sufficiency has been nothing but a figment of imagination. We however hope that the impending new policy will not just be ISPAAD with a facelift plus a few cosmetic changes to it and actually factor in the issue of climate change. 

This article was written in collaboration with Tuduetso Madi. Madi recently got admitted into a Doctoral Programme with a focus on Military Sociology. She also holds an MA Politics & International Relations. Her interests are in Political Economy and International Affairs.

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