The contribution of the agricultural sector to the national economy has been declining since the discovery of minerals.
At some point it was revealed that its overall contribution was as little as 3%.
Yet it is common knowledge that a majority of people in Botswana still live in the rural areas and depend almost entirely on subsistence agriculture.
In other words, these households grow crops and keep livestock that is only adequate to feed and maintain their families. Whenever there is excess produce, that is often incidental. Realizing the imminent collapse of the agricultural sector, the government of Botswana has over the years designed and implemented various programs aimed at increasing productivity in the sector.
Such programs included among others the Tribal Grazing Land Policy (TGLP), Arable Land Development Program (ALDEP), Accelerated Rain-Fed Arable Program (ARAP) and most recently the Integrated Support Program for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD). With reference to the livestock sector, TGLP was conceived to promote commercial ranching but as has been revealed, the policy succeeded mostly in dispossessing small farmers of their grazing land (Picard, 1987).
This significantly increased income inequalities as small farmers were made to surrender their grazing land to commercial ranches. The policy also gave commercial farmers dual access to grazing land and as such gave them considerable advantage over the small farmer. This situation has remained so to this day and has become institutionalized and accepted. In the arable sector, programs such as ALDEP and ARAP were implemented to enhance arable production and increase rural incomes. But an evaluation of both ALDEP and ARAP revealed that their impacts have been negligible.
Miti and Chipasula (1989) document that poor households received donkeys (and such other worthless assets) while medium to large scale farmers got packages such as cultivators and planters. Picard (1987) further commented that instead of eliminating the underlying bias towards large scale producers, programs have always tended to benefit the non-poor and this has exacerbated income inequalities and in extreme cases it has impoverished small holders. It is documented by Mayende (1994) that ARAP disproportionately benefited the tractor-owning medium and large scale farmers. Recently, the government introduced ISPAAD and in his State of the Nation Address (13/11/2009) President Khama revealed that they are encouraged by the public’s embrace of the program which has resulted in cereal production which is ‘currently confirmed at 67, 482 metric tons, which is already a significant improvement over last year’. Though we are not given figures for last year’s cereal production and the share of the produce by small holders, it is worth noting that tractor owners who represent medium to large scale normally plough their fields first and would then plough for others once they are done with theirs and those of relatives and close associates.
As a result, small holders often have their fields ploughed very late into the rainy season leading to low harvest. It is therefore safe to conclude that like its predecessors, ISPAAD is likely to benefit mostly medium to large scale farmers. Tractors and other such implement mainly benefit the very few large scale producers or those aspiring to become large scale producers. It must be borne in mind that even at the height of uninterrupted commercial farming in Zimbabwe, it was the small scale farmers who produced much of the nation’s maize which is the main food security crop. Therefore while commercial production is important for export, achieving food security is largely dependent on subsistence production as practiced by the small holders. As commendable as the government resolve to develop agricultural production on a large commercial scale as outlined by President Khama, government should remain alive to past experience which shows that commercialization of the agricultural sector always leads to neglect of the small holders who actually produce traditional staple for subsistence consumption.
Any neglect of the subsistence sub-sector is likely to exacerbates the poverty situation and confirm the view that ‘people are made poor by decisions taken by their governments…so unfair are the decisions…that money is actually passing from the poor to the rich’ (World Development Movement, 1995). This is so because development expenditure in the rural areas is often directed to the government’s own priorities which are often in response to the market.
In an endeavor to promote and support commercial agriculture in Botswana, it will require a deliberate re-direction of the extension services from scattered and disorganized subsistence farmers towards organized and serious commercial farmers.
Former Minister of Agriculture, Honourable Johnnie Swartz is quoted as saying ‘consequently, government has no option but to try to make farming a viable, rewarding business and investment option. To achieve this, … he said, his ministry’s extension services would focus on serious farmers who would be able to use government intervention programs effectively to improve productivity in the agricultural sector’ (Botswana Daily News, July 11, 2006). Mark the Minister’s words ÔÇô the Ministry’s extension services would focus on serious farmers which invariably means that the extension services would deliberately ignore those farmers who are no serious and these are precisely small farmers.
In the context of the Minister’s comments, serious farmers mean large scale producers and therefore the Minister, in no uncertain terms, revealed that government agricultural services and credit facilities will favor large scale producers. God save the poor! Thus, the government’s idea of our own ‘green revolution’ in Pandamatenga is scary and reminds us of a book titled ‘The Violence of the Green Revolution’ by Sharma (1993) which chronicles the ecological, political and social costs of commercialization in India.
Commercialization is usually premised on the assumption of nature as a source of scarcity and technology as a source of abundance which often leads to the creation of technologies which create new scarcities through neglect and ecological destruction (Sharma, 1993).
It is noted that the Green Revolution in the Punjab region of India was in fact a strategy for creating food surpluses which however boomeranged due to its narrow and short-lived prosperity based on the philosophy of ‘building on the best’ ÔÇô using the best endowed farmers in the best endowed areas. Thus, the Green Revolution in Pandamatenga seems a replica of the Punjab agricultural revolution with likely devastating consequences.
Against the likely consequences for small farmers, it is advisable that they organize themselves into vibrant peasant movements to challenge the monopoly ownership of good land by big farmers, biased government policies and also fight for the equitable distribution of agricultural services and credit. On the whole, food security cannot be achieved by neglecting small holders in preference for commercial producers. Food security is often achieved if farm produce comes from as many small farmers.
Thus, extension services should rather discriminate in favor of small farmers to really stimulate poverty reduction which is essential to achieve food security.