At the 2014 Poverty Eradication Pitso in Chanoga, President Ian Khama announced that his government was in the process of rolling out 7000 backyard gardens across Botswana under his flagship poverty eradication programme. Khama told the Pitso (grand assembly) that the programme aimed at ensuring that those living in poverty to graduate from it to embark on the road to wealth-creation and dignity.
What the president had in mind then was that these gardens would produce enough harvest for consumption at the household level as well as surplus production that would be sold and generate income for backyard gardeners. Two years later, a report by European Union consultants who studied Botswana’s horticulture value chain says that, in addition to other hiccups, backyard gardens will more likely eradicate the owner’s hunger than eradicate poverty.
“The government has been encouraging backyard farming, also known as backyard gardening, as part of its poverty eradication strategy. The initial objective was income generation. However, these usually produce fresh fruit and vegetables for self-consumption,” the report says.
The initiative appears to have been doomed from the very start and the consultants note two reasons. Firstly, Botswana is a desert country with insufficient water resources and in addition to this, backyard gardening was started at a time when water scarcity became more acute. Some areas where people were supposed to earn income through small horticultural projects like this backyard gardening went without water for days on end. Secondly, some intended beneficiaries didn’t have land on which to start those gardens.
“Urban uptake has also been low due to limited space and issues relating to land ownership as the target population live mostly in rented premises,” the report says.
While more closely associated with the government, backward gardens are in fact an initiative of Somarelang Tikologo (an environmental group) which it started through its Urban Community Empowerment Programme. The United Nations Development Programme funded the programme through a small-grants scheme. The project was later entered for a competition at the Shanghai Expo in China and was the only one from Africa. In 2012, the backyard gardening idea propelled Somarelang Tikologo’s former CEO, Keneilwe Moseki, to the international spotlight when the Junior Chamber International pronounced her one of “Twenty Most Outstanding Young Persons of the World.”