Saturday, October 31, 2020

Covid-induced high food prices stoking more anxiety

Since around February when it became apparent that the country would go on a lockdown, food prices have been on an upward trajectory,

The prices may not as yet constitute a crisis, but we are not too far off that mark.

Botswana’s supplies rely heavily on South Africa.

And at the moment South Africa is battling what is easily the worst coronavirus pandemic in Africa.

And what started as the most promising effort against the pandemic seems to have easily collapsed under the surge of infection numbers.

The hospitals are no longer coping.

And the frontline workers are increasingly bearing the brunt.

The situation in South Africa necessarily affects the neighbours, Botswana included.

Just recently Botswana’s fuel supply chain plummeted to alarming levels.

The situation only stabilized after government intervened with what was by all intents and purposes a rationing strategy. 

Nobody expects food riots, but at the moment, Botswana’s food security is at best feeble and at worst wobbly.

This means that the poor will as usual pay the highest price should the crisis keep escalating.

Key food commodities like bread, rice, sorghum, mealie-meal and cooking oil have all had their prices significantly rise.

Added to that has been a decision by Botswana government to increase electricity tariffs by 22% just as coronavirus was setting in.

This has hit hard on many working families, many of who even before the increase were struggling to buy a balanced food basket not to mention paying water and electricity.

Disposable income for many working families has significantly shrunk.

This is a result of over ten years cumulative impact when there was not an increase in salaries, not even to stave off inflationary costs.

Poor harvests across much of Botswana have not helped.

National food import Bill has been steadily increasing, notwithstanding great amounts of money Botswana government has been putting into agriculture through such schemes like ISPAAD.

Drought, crop failures, unreliable rains and also outdated and inappropriate technologies are to blame.

But there is also a need to take a long and hard look at agriculture in Botswana.

Farmers need to evaluate and embrace new technologies.

Old systems have clearly failed. And the growing effects of climate warming will only make such failures starker.

Farming has for too long been left to the old who are no longer energetic, with people retiring from the public service taking up farming.

That too has failed.

Botswana needs full time farmers who are young, energetic and committed.

This means that there has to be a paradigm shift on how we look at farming.

Farmers need to also start hiring well trained personnel to manage their crops and animals.

That calls for a readiness to pay competitive salaries.

And farming has to viewed not as a hobby, but as a commercial enterprise.

This means that farms and cattle posts have to be equipped with amenities needed by today’s groovy and trendy youth. Internet, electricity, television and mobile networks are just but a few of such commodities.

Roads are totally essential to cut down farming costs.

The improved solar technology means that costs will no doubt go down.

It also means that areas that are far off the grid will also not necessarily lose out.

And of course the imbalances in the market created by chain stores have run their course and can no longer be tolerated.

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