The farming industry in Botswana has come out to be amongst those that need to immediately deal with the early economic impact of coronavirus.
Street restaurants are slowly closing while weddings and other social events which usually serve as key market for the local farmers have been cancelled en mass.
The good news for the local farmers, however, is that for horticultural farmers they now haver a chance to sell their produce in the more formal retail sector.
The opening was made by a recent decision by the government to place a moratorium on the import of horticultural crops. The move is however a routine practice and not related to COVID 19. The horticultural import restriction by the Ministry of Agriculture is done to ensure that local farmers are given a fair share of the local market demand and reduce government spending on food essentials that can be available locally.
This past week, local farmers were optimistic that Botswana can be able to sustain itself as its SADC neighbours begin to lockdown their borders and restrict movement in and out of their countries due to the presence of COVID 19.
A Dryland crop producer Tonic Molaolwa whose farm is located in Jwaneng says the import crop restriction gives local framers a chance to sell their produce into the market.
Molaolwa a farmer with 20 years’ experience produces green mealies, grain, beans and watermelons in his 200 hectares of land. He revealed that his main buyer is the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board and sometimes individuals.
“Our main buyer is BAMB, we do sell to grain, mealies and sugar crops to individuals. As for retail shops we have not yet met with retail shops. We produce grain in bulk and sell to BAMB, with retail shops we have a problem with logistics as some of them expect us to deliver to them. It then becomes difficult to hire trucks to deliver or even for their trucks to access our fields, so it becomes difficult to establish business relations with them”, says Molaolwa.
While most organisations across feel the harsh impact of the presence of COVID 19 scourge, Molaolwa says it has been a mild experience with the scourge for his enterprise. The biggest challenges in this planting season for him has been pests such as Fall Armyworm, Aphids and human labour engaged.
” Productivity of human labour is not dependable especially towards the end of the month, as a good number of them do not come to work. So, we experience a loss in production especially during critical stages of crop production such as planting and ploughing.”
Molaolwa says coronavirus is also a challenge, as it means they need to have things such as face masks and hand sanitizers readily available in farms which they did not have before.
“We are also expected to restrict our movements to affected areas for example we cannot go to South Africa to buy parts for our machinery,” Molaolwa says.
Fortunately for Molaolwa his crops are at early stages of growth so he cannot complain about impact of Government banning gatherings which affects those who are harvesters and all crop assessment is done by him.
In Gantsi, Potato Farmer – Petrus Mihaul shared with Sunday Standard that Ministry of Agriculture do visit their farms and consult with them before introducing import restriction. He said “Agric Ministry officials visit us on a weekly basis and make the decision with us and it helps us get a fair price on our produce. The COVID 19 situation has come at a time when we are ready to harvest and our challenges really have been the hot weather.
“Botswana has enough food for the 30 days and we plant over 100 hectares of potatoes as our farm covers almost 2000 hectares,” Milhaul said.