The absence of a national integrated strategy and a clear policy direction on the commercialization of arable agriculture has led to government’s failure to respond in a proactive way to the impending global food insecurity. The approach employed at the recently held conference by the Department of Crop Production, Ministry of Agriculture, recently drew from these limitations and was thus a non starter.
According to the 12th August 2008 SADC Food Security Early warning System, Food Security Update for July 2008, the SADC cereal deficit for 2008/2009 is down to 1.01 million tons from 3.68 million tons. The national cereal requirement is estimated at 331.000 tons while only 78 000 is available giving a deficit of 253.000 tons for 2008/2009 compared to 251,000 tons the previous year.
In addition, the global upsurge in inflationary pressures and the effect of the growing incomes in populous countries such as India and china represent a serious challenge to the readiness of nations to absorb the pinch from the inevitable consequences of interdependence with those countries.
Tensions in the Middle East which led to the swelling of oil prices and the resultant conversion of certain important food products like Maize, in reaction, by main world food suppliers like the United States of America and China for use as Bio-fuels, has spurred the escalation of food prices world wide.
Interim measures adopted by Government in response to the situation included funding the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) for purposes of beefing the Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR). The existing stores for sorghum were increased by a further 30,000 tones whilst the same figure was secured to top up maize and another 10,000 of beans was added to BAMB reserves.
Professor Elenimo Khonga, Dean of the Botswana College of Agriculture, stated that Botswana plans to import about 283,000 tons to cover the deficit and have surplus.
It is clear from this that production levels are very low and certainly nowhere closer to meeting the national demand for grains supplies and other commodities.
Against this background the conference, held under the theme “Increasing production to meet the challenges of food security,” had the onerous task of devising feasible ways to increase production in order to catch up with the challenges presented by food insecurity.
Instead, the experts took turns lamenting the curses of global inflation and engaging in blame games.
Looking at the theme and the agenda, one would have thought that the forum was mandated to make a difference; that debate and exchanges as to the probable cause of the woes that their sector and therefore the country, seems to be going through would be undertaken.
That was the mindset of the participants until the truth reared its head.
One of the officials of the Department raised the concern, “Perhaps we should take this opportunity to reflect and engage in self introspection to determine why, in spite of the vast resources invested in this Ministry, we are failing!”
He further proposed that it should be established whether the problem lies with capacity, human or financial resources or whether “we are simply not attuned to the vision.”
In response, Molatlhegi Modise stated, “It should be noted that the Ministry has engaged the Botswana Institute of Development and Policy Analysis (BIDPA) to carry out a study and come up with comprehensive proposals as to the best that can be done to bring agriculture to its rightful place of being the “true” backbone of the economy.”
The manner in which the Directors of Ceremony conducted their business, limiting and emphasizing the need to be very brief, confirmed that indeed real business was still much awaited.
Apparently, the Assistant Minister of Agriculture, Shaw Kgathi, was initially scheduled to officiate at the meeting on the first day, the 16th September 2008, but due to unforeseen reasons he could not make it. On addressing the gathering, and announcing the newly introduced ‘Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development’ the following day, he pointed out that he has asked for an audit report from the Management of the department, which shall include the number of farmers eligible for financial support.
In addition, Kgathi pointed out that his office would, on the basis of the audit, determine the cost implications and budgetary imperatives
When asked on the sidelines of the meeting, if it should be deduced from his “audit” statement that Government did not conduct any preliminary study to find out what it would take investing in ISPAAD, the Assistant Minister sought to play down the issue.
“The trouble with most people is that when they hear something for the first time they think that there has not been any consultation, when internally the staff had been involved,” said the minister.
Kgathi’s statement notwithstanding, the Sunday Standard is in possession of the Presidential Directive which states, “The current programme (ALDEP III) be terminated with effect from 30th June, 2008”
Against this background, and given that ALDEP III is hardly two years old, some people feel that the new alternative, ISPAAD, is unlikely to escape the pitfalls of its predecessors unless a thorough study that aims at taking every body on board is considered.