Faced with an acute food crisis and the gnawing food prices, the Ministry of Agriculture last Friday spelled out new agricultural initiatives aimed at resuscitating the ailing sector, which has eluded the country since independence.
The Integrated Support for Arable Agricultural Development (ISPAAD) replaced the dormant Arable Development Programme (ALDEP), a development the Agriculture ministry envisages would address the requirement of the subsistence and arable farmers and the food security situation currently tormenting the country.
“Government has realized that ALDEP has, to date, not achieved its intended objective of increasing rain-fed agricultural production and rural employment creation. It has also been realized that the majority of ALDEP beneficiaries have not taken advantage of the ALDEP packages they have received to improve production,” reads part of the statement.
Formulated in 1977 to enhance the dwindling farming sector, ALDEP was deemed a positive decision in the right direction but failed, since inception, to revamp the sector whose GDP contribution to the country’s economy accounts as little as less than three percent.
The situation has seen the country being largely dependent on the mining sectorÔÇöwhich employs less than 20, 000 people ÔÇô while one of the biggest employing sectors, agriculture’s contribution is dependent on it.
Mining accounts for 33 percent of the GDP, over 50 percent of government revenue and about 70 percent of exports revenue.
At present, Botswana is heavily reliant on neighbouring countries over agricultural commodities, with South Africa accounting for over 70 percent of agricultural products.
But the status quo between these countries seems precarious with the looming food crisis threatening the region and the entire world, prompting the ministry to adopt other tactics – the introduction of ISPAAD.
The ministry attributes ALDEP’s failure to human negligence and abuse signaling appropriate and stern measures to ensure the new initiative is a success.
“In a number of cases ALDEP has been a waste because some packages, including fences, have been abused. For instance, fences have not been constructed and maintained to acceptable standards so fields are not protected; draught animals and farming equipment have not been used for farming as intended,” the statement observes.
Against this backdrop, the government has decided to transform ALDEP into a new programme to assist arable farmers with draught power and other agricultural inputs.
According to the statement, the new programme will, among others, provide cluster fencing, borehole water for domestic use at the lands in clusters, potable water and provision of free seed to plant up to 16 hectares.
Other incentives include 50 percent subsidy on any additional seed, free fertilizer for 5 hectares and 50 percent subsidy on additional fertilizer for a maximum of 16 hectares and 100 percent subsidy on draught power for up to 5 hectares for ploughing and planting.
The new arrangement will also see the establishment of 15 Agricultural Services Centers, which will provide draught power and agricultural inputs to farmers and the facilitation of credit through the establishment of a fund through the National Development Bank to extend credit to farmers at concessionary credit rates.
That notwithstanding, the permanent secretary to the ministry, Lucas Gakale, cautions “these subsidies will only be available to those who are committed to farming”.
“People will be expected to look after their fields and ensure reasonable harvests. Anybody abusing the subsidies or not looking after their fields will be disqualified from future assistance,” warns Gakale, adding, “The extension staff will closely monitor the performance and commitment of beneficiaries of this programme to ensure that they show commitment to farming by looking after their fields.”
The permanent secretary assures the ministry will assist farmers who have applied for ALDEP packages and made their down-payments for approved packages.
Applicants are expected to top up the differences between the approved ceilings and the prices of the packages if they still want to be assisted.
For those who are unable to top up the shortages, the ministry advises farmers to see their local Extension Officers to arrange for the refund of their down-payments.
The public will also be informed on how to access the assistance in due course.
“In the meantime, those who are able to provide contract ploughing are requested to register with their local agricultural extension agents. The ministry further advises farmers to service and maintain their tractors for the next cropping season,” says the statement.
Briefing parliament on Wednesday, Agriculture Minister, Christian De Graaf was optimistic the ISPAAD would triumph.
“The new programme is aimed at improving assistance offered by the government to arable farmers as well as improving arable production. The programme is an improvement of ALDEP, which I believe will address the requirement of farmers and the food security situation of the country.”
A seasoned and accomplished farmer, De Graaf maintains: “This new programme will provide seeds and fertilizers and ploughing for farmers.” He added that “these efforts and others are meant to improve production levels for all arable farmers, including resource-poor farmers.”
As for the fencing component and borehole drilling, the ministry insists they will be made available to clusters, adding that “farmers in a particular area are thus expected to form such clusters.”
The ministry will also guide farmers on how such clusters are to be formed.