Saturday, January 23, 2021

Botswana’s maize supply…..a long journey to stability

There is still serious shortage of maize in the country, and Botswana for the longest time shall remain a net importer of maize grain.

As it stands, Botswana continues to import about 170 000 metric tonnes of maize on annual basis as local farmers fail to produce enough required to feed the nation. This is unlike sorghum grain which the country has since stopped importing over three years ago, as the local production has now stabilised and can meet the local demand.

Currently the country only produces 20 000 tonnes in a good year against the demand of 180 000-190 000tonnes per annum.

Botswana’s hopes to shift from reliance in diamonds is still far-fetched as agriculture still fails to stand on its feet to meet the local demand consumption. The country is far from being self reliant on food security.

According to Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board, Chief Executive Officer, Leonard Morakaladi Botswana generally remains a net importer of maize grain as millers continue to import grain from South Africa for human consumption and is meant to augment any shortfall in local supply. 

Morakaladi explained that the shortage is caused by unfavourable weather conditions in the country.

The country has seen a change in rainfall patterns, which resulted in unreliable rainfalls which is attributed to climate change. There are often heat waves and late rains during the expected seasons which then affect crop production. The high temperatures and unreliable rainfalls deters farmers from ploughing in numbers.

The minister of Agriculture, Patrick Ralotsia has in the past urged farmers to turn to no-tillage to preserve the little moisture in the soil. With this method, a farmer does not have to cultivate the soil which expose the moisture to the scorching heat but only insert seeds into the ground, hence improves the germination rate of crops. Ralotsia had in the past called on Batswana to utilise the ploughing fields allocated to them so that they can improve food security in the country.

However, the BAMB boss believes that there is still scope in the country to cut the import bill.

“We are looking to increase production by way of subsidizing input costs. BAMB is also going to start working closely with small farmers through clustering. The ideas are to inculcate the spirit of clustering and see how they can best be assisted in order to meet the local demand,” he mentioned.

The Storage Grain Reserve is sitting at 30 000tonnes of sorghum whereas maize has run down, and cowpeas has 2000tonnes. For the 2017/18 ploughing harvest season, the Board is expecting 35 000 tonnes of sorghum, 7000 tonnes cowpeas and 12 000tonnes of maize which will still be on a shortfall.

There are government programmes such as the Integrated Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agricultural Development (ISPAAD) which was introduced in 2008 to increase local production.

Morakaladi thus, encouraged farmers to take advantage of such initiatives by expanding their arable farming adding that the role of a farmer was an essential one as they were the basis of energy.

The amount of money injected into agriculture through ISPAAD does not translate to the total output expected. From Morakaladi’s point of view, although government spends a lot of money on quality seeds for local farmers through the ISPAAD, the problem could be the actual usage at farm level.

On the other hand, he is encouraging on the youth to appreciate farming as a vacation that put food to the table. He called on further partnerships to enhance agriculture. Agriculture contribution to the country’s GDP is currently at 2.1 percent from 2.4 percent.

Under the 2016/17 financial year the Board recorded a total of 400 farmers signed up for contract farming where more than half are said to be coming from the Pandamatenga area.

It is of interest to note that the increase in Pandamatenga farmers is from small scale farmers; who according to the Board management, now understand the benefits of contract farming.

Pandamatenga does not produce much of maize crop. He said it would be ideal to open up more farming areas around Dukwi. There has been an observation of emerging farmers around the Thuli block. Small farmers cannot be left out as they also prove to have a potential. There is a lot of potential around Ghanzi, which also proves to have a lot of underground water.

On another positive note, there has also been a significant increase in the demand of millet, which Morakaladi advised that the Ministry of Agriculture should encourage the farmers to go into millet production.

During the 2016/2017 harvesting season, a total of 39,657 Mt of grains were purchased. It has also been observed that production of pulses has been growing over the past four ploughing seasons. The government subsidy on production of beans has contributed positively to this beans exponential growth over the past four years.

A record total of 400 farmers signed up for contract farming during the financial year, this is a more than 100% uptake of contract farming as compared to the previous year. More than half of the farmers coming from the Pandamatenga area. It is of interest to note that the increase in Pandamatenga farmers is from small scale farmers who now understand the benefits of contract farming.

White Maize

White maize is mainly sold to maize millers and individual consumers. It is by far the most popular source of carbohydrate in Botswana. White maize demand exceeds 100, 000 mt per year as compared to the local production which on average is lower than 10, 000MT per year. It can be grown successfully in the Barolong Farms, Ngwaketse South areas and Chobe Enclave and Pandamatenga.

Yellow Maize

Yellow maize is mainly sold to individual consumers and demand for it in the animal feed industry is growing. It can be grown successfully in the Chobe Enclave, Pandamatenga, Barolong Farms and Southern Ngwaketse areas. BAMB encourages farmers to grow it as the current market demand exceeds local production.

Millet

Millet is a whole grain grown locally. It is predominantly popular in the Central and Northern regions of Botswana. Millet is a gluten-free grain that’s high in antioxidant activity, and also especially high in magnesium, a mineral that helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function. For many years, little research was done on the health benefits of millets, but recently they have been “rediscovered” by researchers, who have found millets helpful in controlling diabetes and inflammation.

Regarded as our staple food, Sorghum is a whole grain grown locally. There are four products namely; sorghum grain, sorghum meal, sorghum bran meal and sorghum rice.

Sorghum grain (Mabele)

Primarily used to produce sorghum meal, sorghum grain is mainly sold in bulk to milling companies as well as local schools for the milling process. Sorghum meal, also known as “Mabele”, competes directly with maize meal. When manufacturing sorghum meal, the pericarp (the bran portion) is first removed before it is milled so that an acceptable colour can be obtained.

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