The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security bought farm produce valued at just over P14million (P14, 033,766.00) from smallholder and commercial farmers in all the ten districts since the first lockdown.
Assistant Minister of Agriculture, Beauty Manake told parliament recently that government has also provided P200 million through the COVID-19 Relief Fund, to Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) for purchasing grain for the strategic grain reserves.
“It is worth noting that the bulk of the procurement has been done locally and it is still ongoing. There was a price increase in commodities such as millet by P900.00 per tonne, thus making it P4000.00 from P3000.00 per tonne,” she said.
“The country has never been this ready to facilitate sustainable food production, and ensure its availability and accessibility to Batswana to avert food insecurity. The ministry has started to enable a conducive agricultural environment by analysing local production capabilities against the national demand and identifying agricultural commodities, which we have the comparative advantage to produce as a country,” she said.
The junior minister was addressing questions thrown in by the Nata/Gweta legislator Polson Majaga who asked whether or not Batswana farmers are able to support the country during the trying times and if so to state: (i) how the ministry helps Batswana in improving their yields since inception of Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD); (ii) if the ministry procured farm produce from subsistence and commercial farmers in Botswana; and (iii) whether the country has enough food supply to last the whole year.
In her decorative submission to members of parliament, Manake said agricultural production zones across the country have already been identified, in a pledge to implement them through cluster farming and formation of marketing cooperatives.
There are currently 11 Sub-Sectors with the Ministry of Agriculture, and the plan is to sustainably develop them to their maximum capability where they have comparative advantage, at least according to the junior minister. She cited an example of fish production, which could be produced in Chobe, Ngamiland, Okavango and different dams in the Central District.
She promised parliament that, her ministry will soon publish 2020 agribusiness opportunities in Botswana in partnership with CEDA to guide their financial instructions against viable business opportunities that define market food trends and their contribution to the food import bill substitution.
MP Majaga stood on supplementary seeking to further understand the percentage of imports and exports, of how much food the country still imports from its neighbours; as well as to why the National Development Bank can improve on funding Batswana agribusinesses.
In her response, the minister said: “On average, we are importing over 50 per cent of everything that we are consuming locally. On CEDA, if you look into the new guidelines, they are most attractive for agricultural development because of low interest rates, and also because right now it is a developmental bank which is very patient and makes it really attractive for agricultural development.”
Dr Nevah Tshabang of Nkgange constituency throwing his two cents on Manake’s submission said: “I think this question is more serious than that English medium answer you gave us. The northern farmers are struggling as we speak. There was no rainfall, the drought is persistent, the community dams have dried up. I want to know the specific plan that you have for the northern farmers because it is evident that this draught, the worst in four years, is going to cause catastrophic results.”
Dr Tshabang also pointed out to the little amount of cattle and crop yield that is there for the northern farmers saying with the Francistown BMC closed, Maun and Lobatse BMC are far. In that context, he asked what the ministry had in store for the northern farmers specifically because they are the worst affected this year.
Manake indicated her ministry is working on an assessment through the rural development to see how they can assist those areas across the country which are hit hard by drought.
It is of a norm that the Ministry of Agriculture is often not given priority during budget allocations; in this regard, Legislator for Ghanzi North,John Thiite asked Manake who had just read out beautiful and jaw dropping ideas, where would her Ministry get the budget since under the current budget the allocation cannot address all her ideas she mentioned.
She responded; “the economic recovery plan in one of those things, we have agreed with the ministry of Finance and Economic Development that they should increase our budget share so that we can show them that we can be able to produce, and they will actually be able to give us more.”
What also transpired is that, to ensure resilient agricultural growth, the ministry embarked on farmer profiling and needs assessment to provide target-based subsidies across all the different subsectors. From farmer profiling, there would be farm registrations to ensure good agricultural practices for traceability purposes, for the reasons of food safety as described by the Ministry of Health which is also a partner on food nutrition related issues to avert malnutrition and also to provide guidance on our cropping plan and production pattern.
The ministry headed by Dr Edwin Dikoloti also claims that it has worked on agricultural land inventory which has identified chunk of unutilised and underused productive land with available water resources that the farming community is in need to increase food production especially the youth. Same plans are also underway with the Ministry of lands to help identify agricultural productive land across the country.