When one reads stories about the so-called Khama’s initiatives you begin to accept that whatever its faults the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has learnt to perfect its propaganda machine.
Through its well oiled propaganda machine, the BDP government has effectively managed to dupe Batswana and their parliamentarians into believing that Khama has come up with a new initiative called Integrated Support Program for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD). Government has also succeeded in making Batswana believe that the program has met the goal of increasing crop production; that the government has found a long term solution to chronic food insecurity ÔÇô all fluke! The truth is that there is nothing new about ISPAAD. It is a poorly plagiarized form of the failed Accelerated Rain-fed Arable Program (ARAP); ARAP by any other name will remain ARAP. Under ARAP government paid farmers for destumping, ploughing, row planting and weeding their fields.
In addition, improved seeds and fertilizer were provided for free. All these elements are common features of ISPAAD. Other ISPAAD components such as the Soviet styled cluster fencing and provision of potable water continue to exist only on paper and are therefore not worth mentioning at this stage. Some of the shortcomings of ARAP were that due to erratic rainfall the program benefited tractor owners most and reduced Agricultural Extension Officers to Ration Clerks. It was found to be unsustainable since its limited benefits collapsed immediately after termination. There is no reason to expect ISPAAD to have a different outcome. It will suffer the same fate as ARAP since it is bound to be terminated before the next general elections. A frequently peddled myth is that ISPAAD has improved agricultural productivity as well as food security. In order to make an assessment of success or failure of such a program it is critical to consider crop yields, number of hectares cultivated and planted, and an aggregate production in metric tonnes.
Another factor to consider is the amount spent compared to the value of crops produced in monitory terms. Unfortunately you will not get such information from the government controlled propaganda machine led by Botswana Press Agency (BOPA), Radio Botswana, Botswana Television (Btv), and Government Information Communication and Information Systems (BGCIS). What we know is that an econometric assessment of ARAP demonstrated that ARAP failed to improve household food security. So far ISPAAD has also not lived up to expectations.
In 2008/2009 cropping season government spent P211 million on ISPAAD with a cereal output of 53 000mt. During the same period Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) paid P82.50 for a 50kg bag of sorghum to farmers.
Therefore a 53 000mt (or 53 000 000Kg; 1000kg = 1 tonne) cereal production translates into P87million which is a far cry from P211 million of money ploughed into arable field across the country excluding the hidden costs. If the figures are disaggregated between the traditional and commercial sectors the situation becomes even more startling. The yield per hectare has not improved either. Based on these facts one can only conclude that the ISPADD induced production levels have been over exaggerated for political gains.
*Dr Gobotswang is BCP Deputy Leader