Monday, September 21, 2020

Government should assist serious farmers to improve national food security

Dear Editor

The global food crisis is a phenomenon that is affecting families in every nation on every continent. Though increases in food prices have hit all budgets, it’s the poor who bear the brunt of price inflation. The growing food crisis is forcing poor families to spend more of their household budgets on food, leaving little for anything else. The more the food prices rise, the more people will plunge into hunger and poverty.

Food shortages have affected developing countries for generations. It’s a cyclical problem. But the current food crisis is more rapid, urgent and devastating.
Since 2005, food prices have risen to a whopping 80 percent. Why?

There are a number of reasons. One is obviously the rising fuel costs, the other is the rising food demand from populous nations like India and China. Natural disasters also contribute significantly to the food crisis as they destroy crop yields all over the world, including in the United Sates. The increase in use of biofuels by some nations has not helped the already volatile situation.

These are reasons serious enough to cause every government to act. Every nation has to make efforts to produce food for its population. Recently, our government has made a number of pledges aimed at reviving the agricultural sector in an effort to ensure local food security. It needs to be stated that some of the intended initiatives are not new. They have been there before and have failed to make positive impact to the agricultural sector and improve food security. We still import almost 80 percent of our national food requirements. The President has made announcements in a number of kgotla meetings that he has addressed since he took over the reigns of power.

This might have been said with good intent, to try and help Batswana who cannot afford the high costs of hiring draught power. But how does this particular initiative differ from the former Accelerated Rainfed Arable Programme (ARAP) which was applied wholesale to every Motswana without prior assessment of their level of commitment towards farming?

ARAP was implemented in the mid 80s whereby farmers were paid for destumping, ploughing and weeding their fields. It was one of the citizen empowerment initiatives by government.

But when the then minister of Agriculture, Daniel Kwelagobe, was asked what impact the initiative made in as far as improving the agricultural sector and, by extension, the lives of Bastwana, he said, quoting him in him verbatim, “Ah, ARAP, go tshwana fela le fa re ne re tsere madi re bo re a lema. Ga e a re busetsa sepe’. In other words, he was saying the initiative failed to make meaningful contribution to improving food security and the lives of Batswana. Kwelagobe acknowledged that most Batswana did not take care of their crops, they did not weed and the result was a poor harvest. However, there were those few Batswana who were so passionate about farming and took advantage of the initiative to better their lives.

What I want to get to is that government should avoid the recurrence of past mistakes of ploughing money into the ground by ploughing for everyone, even for people who are not committed to farming, just because they have a piece of land. Of course, everybody will be willing to open the gate of their field to allow the tractor to go in and plough, then close and go home. Some will never return to the field again and they will remain unbothered because they would not have lost a cent.

My advice to government is that it should do an inventory of serious farmers and help them to produce food for the nation. We have dozens of such farmers who have got the passion for farming, but are impended by lack of sufficient resources. In South Africa, most farmers are whites and they are able to feed a whole nation of close to fifty million people and also export the surplus. If government could target the resources that it intends to throw away by ploughing for everybody towards assisting these serious farmers, we could definitely realise the fruit of it.

We will be sure that their harvest could improve and, by extension, improve food security.

Thank you

Mogoditshane

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