Friday, March 24, 2023

Government should double efforts to put agriculture back on track

It is commendable that this government has identified poverty reduction as one of its top priorities.

Poverty remains among Botswana’s top most devastating evils, comparable to HIV/AIDS. It threatens to undo the gains achieved over the years.

With the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) literary on its knees, we should now┬áworry about the agricultural sector in general. Given that almost all of Botswana’s food is imported from South Africa, we appear to be careless about food security.

In our view, it is not that Batswana do not have the capacity to plough food to feed the country and break the foreign monopoly. What is clearly lacking is the will to intensify efforts in the agricultural sector.

Only a few years ago, the government used to boast that it was not possible for a Motswana to sleep hungry as a result of poverty. We doubt that this is still true, given the growing number of people, especially in the rural areas, who live in squalid, abject poverty.

It is a great step for the government to acknowledge the strides that need to be made against poverty. However, acknowledging the presence of poverty without bringing about swift and comprehensive solutions is akin to an act of indifference.

There is need to question the viability and sustainability of the often recycled programmes put in place to fight the scourge.

Initiatives like backyard gardens and Ipelegeng will not remotely remove poverty. It is, therefore, time to review agricultural programmes like ISPAAD which are meant not only to increase the national yield but also boost food security while also dragging people from the jaws of hunger. We think these are programmes that could go a long way only if they were properly thought-out.

More than any other sector, agriculture has the biggest potential to improve more lives. On that score, the government’s intention to use the sector to uplift the economy and improve the lot of Batswana is not only commendable but also well conceived.

However, the sector has been literally abandoned for too long, so turning it around will not be easy.

There will be no quick fixes. Hauling agriculture back on track will be an expensive undertaking. The effort will be made even more daunting by the challenge posed by drought and an unreliable rainfall pattern. Unless we optimally utilise all the land we have, resuscitating the agricultural sector will be near impossible.

There is a lot of reinvesting to do in this sector if it is to come anywhere closer to a meaningful contributor to the economy.

Currently Botswana’s land use policies are shoddy, to put it mildly. Large tracts of land that could otherwise be used productively remain idle. Yet many people are busy searching for pieces of land on which to plough.

An absence of communications infrastructure linking farms to the market makes the practice of farming commercially unviable.

Bizarrely, even the government itself keeps big farms of land for which it has no use, when there are many Batswana desperate to get farms to keep cattle.

We do not see how this advances the stated goal by government to increase the national herd.
There are efforts to increase milk output. At our last check, Botswana Development Corporation was involved. Here we once again want to commend the government.

Our fear though is that like the rest of agriculture, this particular initiative faces a near insurmountable obstacle in that infrastructure like roads, power, telecommunications and roads are a challenge.

We do not see how the dairy industry in Botswana can prosper when the farms are so far away from the markets, with no roads leading to the market.

We call on the government to cut farming costs by improving the telecommunications network in the farms.

Priority can be given to those farms that show the biggest potential to feed the nation or those that would the initiative cheaper because they happen to be clustered in a single area that can be easily and cheaply serviced.


Read this week's paper