Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Food insecurity remains Botswana’s big risk

The late president, QKJ Masire once said if Botswana could at the very least produce half of what the country imports from South Africa, Botswana would be so far ahead, not only on food security, but also on developments as the import bill would be so significantly reduced.

He was right in every respect.

Botswana has been spending huge amounts of money on agriculture and food production. Yet there is very little to show for it.

A combination of factors is conspiring to undermine the efforts to become fully self sufficient on matters related to food production.

Given the amount of money spent on agriculture, if all were done properly, Botswana would by now be producing a lot that the country needs to consume.

We are near that.

But still not all is lost. Botswana and South Africa are counted as the most advanced countries in all of sub-Saharan Africa when it comes to food security with a global food security index of more than 50 percent.

Weather patterns are a big hindrance.

The country experiences grave droughts every few years.

The dry seasons are forever getting longer with rainy seasons getting shorter and shorter.

This undermines both crop and livestock production.

Grazing lands get strained and animals die in large numbers.

These cycles of droughts call for embracing new technologies especially to augment what little water the country has.

Irrigation is the most obvious starting point.

Farmers need to accept change.

Staying loyal to things that do not yield results is not the most efficient way to go ahead.

But authorities too need to improve on the schemes they come up with to be adopted by farmers.

Until this is resolved, Botswana will forever struggle to reach its full potential when it comes to food production.

And with that, the risk will continue to lurk not too far away.

Not so long ago there was the NAMPAAD which had been transplanted from Israel and introduced here under a bliss of glamour and fanfare.

As we speak NAMPAAD has quietly died. And the same government has not seen it important to account.

Yet this is a scheme that subsistent farmers were encouraged to emulate.

The amount of money that government was spending on its own farms could in no way be available to ordinary farmers.

From the beginning NAMPAAD was doomed to fail.

Without sustainability, risks are never far away because food security is itself low.

This is because attached to insecurity is not only unavailability, but also unaffordability.

Food prices are often high when supplies are low.

Potential political fallout from high food prices remains a huge security concern for many countries.

Botswana cannot be an exception, because the country continues to import everything especially from South Africa.

The amount the countries relies on South Africa especially for food means that the risk profile is not only increased but also volatile to unforeseen knocks like unrest in that country.

Low food production has even bigger consequences when the population experiences reduced buying power such is the case today.

Owing to the pandemic a big number of people have lost employment.

This has affected their purchasing power. Yet food prices, especially staples like bread, rice and maize meal have been soaring since the beginning of the pandemic.

The ongoing uncertainty cannot only mean more hardships will come our way as the economy is destined to take much longer to recover.

For many people, money has long run out. The situation has been worse for people working in the informal sector which suffered the most during the lockdowns and also during the subsequent restrictions.

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