Without the existence of a functional national agricultural research system in Botswana, the Department of Agricultural Research (DAR) and the Botswana College of Agriculture (BCA) cannot deliver research outputs that meet the needs of the local communities and farmers as is generally expected.
This emerged early this week, from preliminary findings of a research sanctioned by SADC in the country.
It has also been found that the present set up where the different units or departments in the Ministry of Agriculture consider their roles as distinct from one another, was not helpful to the proper development of agriculture and, in particular, for empowering the farmers.
Dr Joyce Macala, SADCÔÇôSCARDA Focal Person currently on a mission in the country, said, “In spite of this fact, many farmers across the country, through this research, have expressed the view that their input is not incorporated in efforts to address the problems that seem to besiege the sector, therefore nothing changes.”
Thus, an integrated approach remains the only way to the end.
To drive Macala’s point home, one farmer contributing to the discussion on the importance of farmer participatory research, recalled how a team of people came to his premises, claiming to come from the Department of Agriculture Research.
“They brought a bulky document, don’t know if it was 40 pages or somewhere there, purporting to be a questionnaire which they said I should fill in. I had no time for that since I’d rather be doing something else than waste my energy on what I don’t understand,” he stated.
To make matters worse, even sister units in the same ministry are hardly informed of the efforts of others, despite the common goals of eradicating poverty and improving the standards of living in the southern African country, which lies at the heart of the ministry of Agriculture.
Against this background, there was consensus that, the introduction of a national coordinating body that will enhance the trickling down of SCARDA’s fruits to lowest strata of society should equally go a long way towards addressing the challenge of linkages between the various stakeholders.
Explaining the nature of the support her organization offers to Botswana’s agricultural sector at a “Farmer Participatory Research Workshop”, which took off early in the week at the premises of the country’s College of Agriculture in Gaborone, the SADC Focal person emphasized the importance of placing the farmer at the centre of all research initiatives.
It was in this context that central to the objectives of the programme was the intention to ensure that by the end of the workshop, the participants would be empowered to be able to reach out to the farmer because, “The point of departure of our strategy is that for any research initiative to yield meaningful results it cannot afford to exclude the farmer,” highlighted Macala.
The workshop, which ends on Friday this week, is part of SADC’s initiative to promote Research in Agriculture, training and development through the Strengthening Capacity and Agricultural Research and Development in Africa (SCARDA) program.
Botswana is one of the countries participating in the SCARDA project.
The purpose of the SCARDA project is to strengthen institutional and human capacity in Botswana, in order to identify, develop and deliver research outputs that meet the needs of people involved in agriculture in the respective communities where such initiatives are carried out.
To this end, SCARDA adopts an innovation approach of promoting multi-stakeholder collaboration in the context of the value chain.
Elaborating on the value chain, Macala stated that it refers to the consideration of all the processes that a product goes through, right from production, inputs supply, extension up to the point of marketing. “Through this, the identity and placing of roles of stakeholders on the pertinent issues be properly enhanced to the benefit of the producers, through a systemic interplay of functions.
For this reason, the five day course places emphasis on strengthening the skills and competencies of managers of Research and Development. It is also intended to impart theory on how linkages can be strengthened.
In the same vein, customized short courses for specialized stakeholders such as scientists and extension officers are envisaged to start in a few weeks.
Apparently, a number of students from Botswana have already been supported through SCARDA for training at MSc level.
Dr Ricks Chabo, Principal of the BCA, expressed the view that out of the envisaged programmes, a firm foundation is assured for a bright future for the agriculture sector, especially those involved in research and development.