More rain this year, but less in the future

Recently, the Meteorological Services predicted that this year, rains will be heavier than last year.

This was good news to Batswana, especially farmers who rely heavily on rain for their farming activities. The hope is that it could continue raining in the future but this is not likely. 

The Meteorological services says that in the long term, Botswana is getting drier and drier, even though some years like this one experience good rains. 

Chief Meteorologist at the Department of Meteorological Services, Penny Lesolle, says that climate change model projections show that Botswana is likely to experience drier conditions. 

However, different models give different drying levels. "Most models show that by 2050 there will be drier conditions," she said.
She says that there are a number of systems that bring rainfall to Botswana, which ranges from the state of the oceans in the Equatorial Pacific, the inter-tropical convention zone and local convective disturbances. 

"Some of these mechanisms like El Nino and La Nina are global in nature and will change differently and therefore affect the rainfall in Botswana differently from year to year," she said. 

Lesolle says that analysing at least 30 years of meteorological parameters and coming up with a mean of the parameters determines the climatology of any location.  The mean then describes the climate of the given location.

"There are both inter and intra annual variations in the different parameters," she said. 

However, because of the complexity of the variations, it is often difficult to say confidently that certain parameters have changed because of the variations that occur naturally.

"However, climate change is a reality that we cannot deny. But the challenge is attributing the annual changes that may be detected to either climate change or the normal natural variations," she said.

With the country getting drier by the years, how is the country performing in terms of food production? 

Food Security head at the Ministry of Agriculture, Kehumile Sebi, says that over the years, the agricultural sector in Botswana was faced with a number of challenges, the main one being unfavourable climatic conditions resulting in frequent droughts, which tend to cause instability in domestic production. 

She says that food availability is met through commercial importation for mostly agricultural commodities, which are cereals, dairy, honey and horticultural products.

She says that as a result of food shortage, the focus of the governments' agricultural policy objectives shifted from food sufficiency to food security mainly because Botswana was not able to feed its own population.

"This policy shift to food security allows the country to engage in trade to augment the deficit. Food security must therefore not be viewed as an agricultural issue per se, but with an approach whereby attention is given to the macro level availability of food through farm production and trade, access to income streams to acquire food at household levels and improved utilisation of nutritious food at the household level," she said.

Sebi says that over the years crop production has been fluctuating as per precipitation and hectare (ha) planted, as well as government assistance. But currently, the government still imports between 60 and 80 percent of what the country consumes in the form of cereals.

She says that cereal production for 2007 to 2008 was 55,072 megatons (mt) from 103 700ha, of this 43,000mt was for cereals, before ISPAAD.

For 2008 to 2009, 29315ha was planted and 83,070mt was the total production from which 56,211mt was for cereal. 

She says that this shows an increase from 15 to 28percent of the national cereal requirement since the inception of ISPAAD.

For 2009 to 2010 the area planted is 335,166ha and the production figure is currently 201,079 of which cereals constitute 52,976mt.  However, this figure will increase, as post harvest activities are still ongoing.

The country's demand for milk is estimated to be 48 million litres and local production is only 8.3 million litres from a national herd of 5,348 dairy cows.

Pork imports are greater than local production. During the last financial year, local production was estimated to be 443.06 tons while imports were 1,077.7 tones.

The increase in imports is attributed to low production of pigs in the country coupled with lack of slaughtering facilities. The pig population in Botswana is estimated to be 13,027 pigs, however, the sector has created employment for 210 people in the last financial year.

Sebi says that in attempts to meet the Vision 2016 to eradicate poverty and food insecurity the government has introduced some programmes like ISPAAD, but unfortunately production needs multidimensional factors to thrive.

She says that if the predictions by meteorological services that the country gets drier by the years, farmers would suffer since they mostly rely on rains for farming. 

"Rainfall distribution influences the area planted as well as the time of planting, and it also has a bearing on total crop production. It is an obvious case that if Batswana rely on rains and it is becoming drier by the years, it means even if planting takes place there will be less or no production realised, and again less or no farmers will take this activity up as it will have no positive results," she said.


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