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11 Nov 2018

By Richard Moleofe

There was just one item I was looking for in the president’s speech on the State of the Nation Address, that is the issue of food security. That was the only single item I was searching for throughout the address. To many’s dismay the president has dedicated very little attention to the issue of food production.

Reading through the speech or listening through it as it was the case with me, the president tries to piece together different strands of issues surrounding agriculture. One of them being ISPAAD(Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development), there is enough  evidence that this country is slowly coming to life in the area of agricultural production. In fact ISPAAD has catapulted our production to levels only experienced in the early 1980s when people were still very much dedicated to agriculture.

From a defence perspective, Botswana is very much exposed regarding the issue of food security. In fact I would argue that we are the least secure country in all of SADC. I have arrived at that determination looking at our food import bill. Statistics Botswana keeps very clean records and it is easy to find out from them what we have imported and at what levels.

We have only increased our production in the dairy sector and it will be very interesting to learn how, since that is one of the most difficult sectors to drive in a semi-arid country like Botswana. However, the cost of achieving that level of increased production has been equally high.

At independence in 1966, this country was a nett exporter of food. Top in the list were beans and sorghum. Tables have now turned and we import our sorghum from as far afield as Australia. Australia is listed as the world’s driest sub-continent and yet their level of production per square kilometre still far exceeds that of many African countries, including the tropical parts of Africa. Africa still boats of large tracts of arable land and Botswana is no exception.

Zambia became the world’s largest copper producer right after gaining independence. Due to easy money derived from mining, our neighbour to the north abandoned agricultural production. Sooner than later the international prices of copper came tumbling down. The Kwacha which is the national currency also tumbled on a tailspin.

Botswana’s success in the diamond industry also took it the route of Zambia. The two countries experienced identical rural-urban migration patterns which are almost impossible to reverse. In Botswana, our industrial success has seen a decline of agriculture. But like John Smith who is a commercial farmer in Pandamatenga put it, we can never eat our diamonds.

Food security is always given a priority in most countries. A good example is the current embargo in Qatar. When her neighbours put a stop to all the agricultural exports, Qatar quickly imported live dairy cows and fodder from countries such as New Zealand and France. They did this to satisfy their food security. They could still import finished dairy products but they realised that there was no long term security in doing it that way.

China is one country that has shown itself to be greatly advanced in technology. Agricultural technology is one area they have deliberately focused on as a way of satisfying the issue of food security. China has a seventh of the world population with less than seven percent of global productive arable land and yet no one goes to bed hungry in that country.

A deliberate vision is needed in order to realise the dream of reaching a stable and secure food supply. That is what the Chinese government has been pursuing since 1949. In Botswana we still lack a vision that can drive food production. We are instead fighting our problems with money. But no matter how much money we throw at our problems, there will be no positive results if we do not have a vision.

China has a growing and vibrant population that needs to be fed. This is why it is important for us to place our attention on them. That a ready market. We require transfer of technology from them in order to triple our agricultural production. The model that China has followed in their development program from an early age was the provision of infrastructure.

Lack of infrastructure is the most undoing factor in Botswana’s agricultural development. Aspiring dairy farmers who are still off the national grid have buried their dreams. Even when they run their farms using generators, the condition of our roads in the deep rural areas where agricultural production takes place is still in a very bad state. I recently spoke to our area councillor in the Lentsweletau West asking him to improve our road. His answer was that they don’t do roads leading to farms (ga re dire ditsela tsa masimo).

It is a lack of vision that informs such an awkward policy. The reason why China can become our reasonable partner is because their rural roads have been given a priority and that has boosted their agricultural production and by so doing reducing their food import bill.

Some people have argued that Botswana does not have enough water to effectively drive agriculture. In recent years we have invested heavily in the development of large dams in the northern part of the country. Unfortunately the issue of boosting agriculture was never part of the detail initially. Our major problem here is lack of vision.

There is too much water in the northern parts of our country. Unfortunately there is no sufficient infrastructure to ferry it to the more arid areas where it is most needed. Water Utilities Corporation should proactively create infrastructure for raw water distribution. Agriculture does not require portable chlorinated water. In fact every home should be having two metres; one for portable water and the other for raw water to boost food production right from our backyards.

This country surely needs a revival of the past. The past is littered with good stories of successful crop yields. We all know that climate change has become a factor in slowing agricultural output, but China has the technology needed to offset all the negative effects of climate change and global warming.

*Richard Moleofe is a security analyst

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