The torrential rains that the country has been receiving lately may have come a little bit too late to reverse the decline in cereal production for the year. On Wednesday, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of United nations sounded an early warning that food security conditions is expected to worsen in 2018 due to expected decrease in agricultural production.
Under its Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS), the experts at FAO say harvesting of the 2018 cereal crops is expected to begin in April and cereal production is forecast to fall sharply to a well below-average level. The GIEWS continuously monitors food supply and demand and other key indicators for assessing the overall food security situation in all countries of the world. It issues regular reports on prevailing conditions and provides early warnings of impending food crises at a country or regional level.
In its analysis of Botswana’s food situation, FAO says the country’s forecasted cereal production decline is on account of unfavourable weather conditions, reflecting an uneven temporal distribution of seasonal rainfall, lower cumulative quantities and higher temperatures in early 2018.
“Despite some improvement in weather conditions since February, the reduced rains earlier in the season resulted in a contraction in cereal plantings and are expected to restrain yield potential,” the organization warned.
However the forecast for the national food supplies remain stable in 2018/19 as the country is expected to turn to its biggest trading partner for imports to support the deficit. “More than 90 percent of the domestic cereal requirements are satisfied by imports and the country imports on average about 375, 000 tonnes of cereals, mainly wheat and maize, per year.”
“The country’s reliance on imports, mostly from South Africa, is likely to increase moderately following the expected decline in cereal production. However, given the ample cereal availabilities in South Africa, domestic supply conditions in the 2018/19 marketing year are expected to remain stable,” said FAO.
The assessment by FAO is in line with what Minister Patrick Ralotsia told parliament earlier this month that the country is likely to experience severe food deficit. When presenting the budget for Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), Ralotsia said the onset of the 2017/18 cropping season was characterized by prolonged periods of dry spells and high temperatures resulting in conditions that are not conducive for arable production.
“To date a total of 42, 800 hectares have been planted by 8,123 farmers compared to 167, 562 hectares planted by 32, 620nfarmers during the 2016/17 season,” the minister said. “The low hectarage planted is attributed to low rainfall received during the season. In some parts of the country crops planted are already showing signs of wilting due to lack of rainfall and high temperatures.”
Ralotsia says the country should brace itself for lower yields given the fact that this year’s forecast falls even shorter than the production realised in the previous year. In 2016/17 cropping season, total production was 193, 372 tonnes of which cereal production was 128, 075 tonnes, an equivalent of 49 percent of the national cereal requirement (260, 000 tonnes) and 60 percent of the national demand (320, 000 tonnes) for rain-fed production.
“Based on this scenario, it is evident that the country would have to augment the deficit trough imports,” the minister said.
Meanwhile, the current stock levels of grains held by Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) consist of 45, 354 tonnes of sorghum, 5,000 tonnes of maize and 7, 000 tonnes of pulses. Of the total grain stocks, 30, 000 tonnes of sorghum and 2, 000 tonnes of pulses are for Strategic Grains Reserve. The current stock levels can sustain the country up to the start of the new harvest in July 2018.
Still, FAO warns that although the food security situation is likely to seasonally improve as new supplies from the 2018 harvest become available, the likely decrease in cereal production may result in higher numbers of food insecurity compared to the reduced level in 2017. The Botswana Vulnerability Assessment Committee (BVAC) estimated that 12, 000 people in 2017 required food assistance. The results from the BVAC’s 2018 assessment are expected to be available in June.