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Agriculture shines as COVID-19 crushes other sectors

GOITSEMODIMO KAELO
On the up: the Agricultural sector is expected to grow by 3.6% this year, after expanding by 2.4% last year PIC: PHATSIMO KAPENG
The global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has disrupted the world in unimaginable ways.

From businesses to lifestyles to livelihoods, the outbreak has upended lives overnight.

Some sectors have taken the worst hit due to lockdowns, travel restrictions and a significant slump in consumer spending.

However, even amidst this crisis, some of the sectors such as Agriculture are showing signs of defying the pandemic and presenting a ray of hope to economies.

The initial lockdown in April 2020 after the country registered its first COVID-19 positive cases coincided with the harvest season. But what has emerged since last year is that agriculture is slowly gaining its relevance to the national economy.

For decades, agriculture under-performed in terms of its contribution to the economy, being recorded at under two percent. Frequent droughts and other systemic issues combined to ensure that the country’s first borns, as farmers are called, failed to live up to their lauded role, as other siblings such as mining and financial services pulled the economy to its feet.

Amidst the COVID-19 gloom, however, the Department of Meteorological Services (DMS) forecast last year that rainfall would be above normal this season. And indeed, rainfall has been good since the start of the rainfall season in October 2020.

The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, in fact, expects that agriculture will be only one of two sectors that showed growth in the 2020/21 financial year, at 2.4%. In the 2021/22 financial year which begins on April 1, it is expected that agriculture will follow this up with growth of 3.6% thanks to the good rains.

With about 90% of Batswana farmers dependent on rainfall, good rains have always stimulated good agricultural activities in the country. There is a prospect of a bumper harvest, which ultimately has a huge impact on the life of the ordinary Motswana and the economy.

For Mbaakanyi Lenyatso, a small scale farmer who has invested close to a million Pula into farming, COVID-19 was a necessary evil to turn around agriculture in Botswana. For him, this was an opportunity for the nation to reduce the swelling import bill, in which he says is food is the main contributor to due to a number of reasons such as people neglecting their fields products for processed products.

However, he says the closure of borders following travel restrictions in the wake of Covid-19 presented opportunities for farmers and the country to find ways to produce and feed its nation.

“By closing borders, people were forced to move fom buying in shops and buying in farms. There for the market presented itself to the farmers. The secondary activities also come into create both jobs and wealth for the people as we started to see many backyard animal

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feeds processing from what we usually throw away. We stopped importing lethaka (reed) and start processing our own. Though on a small scale but many hands were involved,” he explained.

Another benefit, he said, is on substitute foods. According to him, many people switched to Tswana chicken production than the broilers.

He said currently, many people are engaged in hatchery targeting Tswana chicken and improving this from six months to four months’ maturity as a way of replacing the broilers.

Moreover, there was a significant migration of able-bodied people from the town hustle life to rural areas where they resuscitated masimo as they saw business opportunities in the process.

“Social distancing pushed many people out of the closed restaurants to this roadside traditional food selling restaurants. By so doing it increased demands in field products, Tswana chickens and others. Going forward, this will be a turning point because people have observed that it can work,” he said.

Jan Erasmus, a farmer under TOUTUMA Arable Farmers Association, says with or without COVID-19, agriculture has always been the backbone of the country’s economy, and as such its significance should not be undermined. He says while the pandemic has generally affected everyone, no one has given up on agriculture.

“However, the reduction of ploughing hectares under the ISPAAD support means less hectarage this season,” he says.

TOTUMA is an acronym, which stands for Tonota, Tutume and Masunga villages.

Johnson Ntshimane Maseng, who is the Vice Chairperson of Goodhope District Crop Farmers Association, says despite the late onset of rainfall season, they expect a bumper harvest.

In his view, COVID-19 has both negative and positives, but it is the positive that farmers have to focus on in order to produce food for the country.

“Because of the situation we find ourselves in, the focus is not on how many hectares we plough now but how much we produce per hectare. But I must say, we would have done even better as a district had it not been for some of the problems created by COVID-19. In some instances we couldn’t access spare part shops,” explains Maseng.

Maseng bemoans that the late onset of rains affected farmers who plough through the ISPAAD as they were cut out by the government’s ploughing season.

 The farmers’ comments give an indication that although COVID-19 has disrupted economic growth in the broader aspect, it has presented agriculture with a chance to shine as a contributor to the economy.

Agriculture has shown that it is one of the few sectors able to grow in a crisis, especially with the season’s good rains. Even with a global crisis, food can never go out of business.



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