Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Farmers shun idiotic decisions

On December 4th, three officials from the Department of Crop Production in the Ministry of Agriculture were heard bellowing in the Radio Botswana’s morning programme discussing issues concerning the current ploughing season. Of the three, messrs Mogome and Ramokopane dominated the discussions. It is these two plus the behaviour of officers in the Kgatleng District that I want to deal with in this article. I am doing so in the interest of the community they are employed to serve.

Admittedly, a lot of what both Ramokopane and Mogome said in the radio programme was enlightening. On the other hand, there was one infuriating aspect of their subject. That emerged when they started blaming the disastrous way of issuing seeds to the farming community for the current ploughing season. More often than not, the bad overshadows the good things. There has been an unpardonable delay in the issuing of seeds. This delay is unprecedented and it appears it was wide-spread. 

Upon trying to explain the cause of the delay, Mogome and Ramokopane shifted the blame to farmers claiming that the cause was brought about by the farmers’ delay in registering for the present ploughing season. According to them, they had done everything well in time to make the ploughing season a success. This is what Mogome said in the radio, “I don’t want to believe that seed is in short supply. We did everything to secure seeds well in time wherever we could get them.” Ramokopane concurred saying, “where there is none availability of seeds or where there are delays, such delays are caused by the farmers who did not register early.” 

But comments from farmers who phoned in were to the contrary. Most farmers who phoned in appeared unhappy over the delay in providing them with seeds. They refused to buy the suggestion that they were to blame for the unsatisfactory manner of issuing them with either seed or coupons. Most of the callers claimed that they registered in time for the ploughing season and when they went to their sub-stations to get seeds, they found out that sorghum was the only seed available and that coupons had not arrived. They had been to their supply stations twice or more and came back empty-handed. On each occasions, they were told that there were no coupons or seeds and that they were expected to arrive at any time. 

It is not clear whether the two men deliberately tried to mislead the nation when they exonerated their officers from blame or if they genuinely believed that their out stations did what was expected of them. But whatever the case may be, shifting the blame to the farmers will one day backfire because there will come a time when farmers will say enough is enough. Nowadays the farming community consists of people more enlightened than agricultural assistance or technicians. They do not want idiotic decisions wherever they may exist. 

        The problem of issuing of seeds was not localised. It was country-wide. Is it really possible that a large section of the community country-wide would uniformly respond late for registration to plough?  Let’s take Rasesa Village where there was frustration and anger among the farming community as a case study. This village is situated west of Mochudi between the railway line and the A-1 road. It caters for farmers in the area and those in Dikgonnye and the periphery. The area is fairly large stretching from the A-1 road up to part of the border with the Kweneng District. The office in Rasesa is manned by an agricultural officer with the help of a temporary field assistant. A very large number of the farming community registered for the current ploughing season between February and June. Apparently registration closed on or about June or July. No further registration was done except the ones which may have been done through the back door. A certain Ramaabya was one of those turned away in October because registration had long been closed. Another late-comer was advised that the closure affected seed supply only and it did not apply to the actual ploughing. He was therefore properly advised that if he could afford to buy himself seeds, he could benefit from the use of farming implements. 

At the beginning of October some farmers began enquiring about availability of seeds from their extension office at Rasesa. They wanted to get their supply in time and wait for the rain to come. To their great disappointment, sorghum was the only seed available. Most of them did not favour sorghum and so they had to wait. The wait was so long that by the time the first rains came, the supply had not started. They continued making follow-up enquiries and on each occasion, the response from their extension office was that “not yet”, meaning that the coupons had not been received yet. 

The coupons started arriving in late November. Even then, the first batch was not enough to cover the farming population who had registered. A few days later, the last batch of coupons arrived and the office appeared well stocked to meet the needs of the farmers. The farmers’ hopes were dashed by the organisational structure of the office whose time-table only allows them to issue seed supply on Tuesdays only no matter what obtains on the ground.  It appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are set aside for office work while Thursdays are for the supply of seeds to Dikgonnye people. Even then, Dikgonye gets a few hours of service instead of the whole day. What happens is that “Molemisi” arrives there at about 10.00 in the morning or a little late. By 3.00 o’clock in the afternoon she returns to her duty station at Rasesa so that that she knocks off from work at 4.30. It has become increasingly clear that the utterances of both Ramokopane and Mogame in apportioning blame on farmers came from the mouths of people not in touch with the situation on the ground.  

There is a sociological book that attempts to address exactly what is happening at Rasesa. It is titled “Social Change In Rural Societies.” In there, sociologists have constructed a term to explain why educational programmes failed to achieve stated objectives. They call it the “Peter Principle or The Incompetent Shall Inherit The Earth.” The principle was constructed following a study of incompetence at every level of administration. Their study had interesting outcomes. 

It mentions as an example, a lady who had been an extremely conforming student at college. Her assignments were either reasonable facsimiles of textbook or journal excerpts, or transcriptions of the professor’s lectures. She always did as she was told-no more, no less. She was considered a competent student and graduated with honours from the teacher training college. When she became a teacher, her weaknesses emerged. She taught precisely as she herself had been taught by following the exactly the textbook, curriculum guide, and the bell schedule. Her work was fairly well except where no rule or precedent was available. As such, when a water pipe burst and flooded the classroom, she continued teaching until the principal appeared and rescued the class. She never broke a rule or disobeyed an order, she was often in difficulty when problem-solving situations arose. It is said she had reached her level of incompetence as a classroom teacher. Is there a clear problem-solving mechanism at Rasesa?

The Peter Principle states that in a hierarchy, each employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence and that every post tends to be occupied by an employee incompetent to execute its duties. Simply what the principle means is that a competent teachers is promoted to become an incompetent principal, a competent principal promoted to become an incompetent inspector of schools or in agriculture’s nomenclature, a competent technical assistant is promoted to become an incompetent senior technical officer.    

This principle may apply to the current situation at Rasesa. The time-table there is drawn in such a way that the issuing of seed is done ones a week. For instance the issuing day at Rasesa is Tuesday only. If at the end of the day’s business people are still queuing, they have to wait for the following Tuesday to receive their supply. Those who do not have the means of traversing the midnight for queuing are disadvantaged. Some of them have been coming in and out for over a month without making it to the rationing table because of joining the long queue after sunrise. I happened to have been one of the people queuing for the seed supply on Tuesday November 26 having arrived at half past seven in the morning. We left the supply office at about 5.00 in the afternoon empty-handed because I could not make it to the fining line. Earlier in the day, frustration and anger were visible on the faces of several farmers. Others approached me with a request that I should use my influence to advice the officers to speed up the process which was unreasonably too slow. I declined and referred them to the members of the farmers’ committees. Committee members were conspicuous by their absence. Driven by the desire for fair play, farmers drew a very long list of those present for it to be a guiding tool for next Tuesday’s work. Farmers considered that list helpful but officers rejected it saying “in this office we don’t operate using lists”. 

 We may not know the exact reason why the list was rejected except that the officers manning the office don’t use lists in their work. There are two possible reasons for the rejection. It may be something to do with ego or that there is no precedence to problem-solving in that office and therefore they have decided to steak to the time-table they inherited from their predecessors. Infuriated farmers then phoned the supervisors in Mochudi asking for their intervention. The response from Mochudi was encouraging as two senior officers arrived at Rasesa a few hours later to see for themselves. They spoke to the farmers and promised that the situation would be rectified. To date, the promise has not been fulfilled. 

Interestingly, the department of Crop Production in Mochudi recently advertised vacancies for temporary field assistants. Field assistants are needed for the issuing of seeds and fertiliser to the farming community and for measuring of plough, and row planted fields and registration of farmers’ fields among other things. It appears these recruits were for the 2019/2020 ploughing season. Closing date for receipt of applications was on November 29 while the ploughing season had long started and was left with only two months to end. It may be that those successful have not started work taking into account the time taken for short-listing, interviewing candidates, hiring, orientation and posting.

Against this background, it is very clear that the mess going-on there was not caused by farmers. They registered within the time frame. Anything to the contrary should be blamed on officials at the department of Crop Production either at district or national level. They failed to issue seeds or coupons to the farming community well in time. They should put their house in order because people are slowly but surely becoming impatient especially when their suggestions are being shunned for no apparent reasons.


Read this week's paper

Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.