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BY CEDRIC SWANKA
Recent planting seasons have not been easy for farmers across the country due to the effects of the El Nino weather phenomenon caused by the climate change. This has however not deterred them, precisely those in the Pandamatenga area to give up on their goal to feed the nation. The Pandamatenga region alone produces over forty five thousand (45000t) to fifty thousand (50000t) tonnes with crops such as sorghum, legumes inclusive of mung beans and cowpeas according to the National Development Bank (NDB). NDB is one of the key financiers of farmers in the country across the country.
The bank’s Chief Operations Officer - Jerry Mwendapole said during the media tour that the Pandamatenga area contribute 90 percent Botswana`s food supply and security.
A group of journalists sponsored by the NDB recently toured the Pandamatenga community of farmers which entails both small and large scale. Amongst them, Crops Botswana owners and farmers Ian and Sheila Cumming have been farming for over thirty years on two of their farms covering 500 hectares and another 505 hectares farm.
“NDB has been with us for over thirty years, we borrowed money from them to pay for some de-bushing and land clearing. Government then helped us by providing infrastructure such as roads and a drainage system to curb the flooding of farms.”
Farmers in Pandamatenga planted crops such as sorghum and sunflower, but when Government raised the price of legumes such as beans, farmers in the area experienced some yields. Sheila added that “with the growing of beans where government through the agriculture ministry, put the challenge to farmers to grow beans it helped Botswana save money by stopping the importation of beans at a high price.”
“With this challenge to grow beans, we managed to produce a lot of beans and a lot of these went into the feeding. I think this is what makes farmers in Pandamatenga as a whole successful, government gives us the challenge and we take up the challenge and run with it,” Sheila added.
Prospects visions co-owner and chairman of the Pandamatenga farmers’ association Hermann Venter said “Government support has been excellent privately and interacting with the farmers’ association from both the departments of the ministry and the ministry as a whole.” On his farm Venter has been able to produce three tonnes per hectare for Sorghum and one tonne per hectare for mung beans. Mung beans are excellent for Pandamatenga, it has adapted very well to this climatic conditions.”
“Security wise Pandamatenga does not experience violent crimes and climate wise we are very satisfied if there is any drought government always assist the farmers with infrastructure development to get our yields up. All our developments we did with our funds and we started making use of NDB for crop production,” Venter said.
However these dry land farmers experience some challenges within the best performing farming region in Botswana. Problems synonymous with farming such as unpredictable rainfall, theft of property, pest invasions and shortage of land. Hermann Venter shared what he has experienced as with being a farmer in Pandamatenga, he said “the problem with Pandamatenga is the availability of land that is up for sale or for development. Pandamatenga is just so big that there are only limited open fields for farming, as there is so much sandy soil.”
“So there is no room for expansion, so we have to wait for another farmer who wants to retire before you can do some expansion but it almost rarely happens. Another problem is the input cost keeps on rising and price range is not on the same range. In the past seven years we were getting two thousand nine hundred pula per tonne (P2500/t) for sorghum and buying tractors we use in our fields cost us around one million sixty eight thousand pula (P168000). You can do your calculations and see the mismatch,” Venter said.
Philip Mpofu a small scale farmer shared that the unpredictable rainfall has led to him growing crops simply to have something to provide for even though there might be a market for the crops. He said “sometimes I am left with the option to grow simply for survival and I would struggle to find a market for the produce. I have also tried to apply for some land and had my requests unsuccessful. I think the reason I am unsuccessful is that there are other competitors with better proposals than mine because as far as finance, support and implements I am well prepared.”
Eastfort holdings owner and farmer Carol Viljoen said “our main challenge is the quelea birds which attacks our sorghum and some insects as well that we are fighting every year by spraying. Especially our western farms because are close to Zimbabwe, they migrate from there and come into our fields. We spray the sorghum, mung beans but it would help us a lot if we could get a roundup ready variety that we can just spray once and we plant.”
Among the positives for farmers in Pandamatenga is that they have a farmers’ association which helps them speak with one voice when dealing with the Government. Chairman of the association Hermann Venter said “once a month we have big meetings with the minister, if there is someone who wants to invest in Pandamatenga we can consult.”
Ian Cumming also added that “for dealing with quelea birds government helps us eradicate them as we have a team that come in to eradicate them while we provide the labour and spotting. We have also bought a drone we are yet to use. We are hoping to use it for dealing with quelea birds as the licensing and necessary paperwork has been finalised. Government has also provided infrastructure such as drainage system to guide the water away from our fields.”