Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Govt wakes up to vitality of agric sector

For as long as it has existed, the government’s central statistical agency has not collected information on an agricultural sub-sector that is increasingly becoming important to the nation.

“Statistics Botswana (SB) does not collect information on the horticulture sector. Joint Statistics Botswana and the Ministry of Agriculture surveys cover livestock, crops, dairy and small livestock holdings,” says an account analysing the value chain of Botswana’s horticulture value chain that was produced on behalf of the Private Sector Development Programme (PSDP).

In SB’s statistics, horticultural information is classified as “Other” within the agricultural sector and is consolidated with information about forestry, hunting and bee-keeping. The PSDP report says that despite its relatively small size, horticulture plays a critical strategic role in Botswana’s economy and recommends that SB should start publishing disaggregated information about this sector.

In more precise terms, the strategic role is that of diversifying the economy, a goal becoming more imperative as diamond reserves dwindle.

Botswana accounted for 0.6 percent of the world’s vegetables imports and 0.2 percent of the world’s fruits imports in 2013. In the same year, 39 800 tonnes of vegetables valued at US$22.6 million were imported. Currently, 95 percent of Botswana’s fresh fruits and vegetables imports are sourced from South Africa.

In answer to the question of when SB plans to compile statistics on horticulture, Stilwell Dambuza, Agriculture and Environment Statistics Manager, says that the agency recently launched the Botswana Strategy for the Development of Statistics (2015-2020). The latter is designed to harmonise and build synergies among various producers of data so that there is consistent, reliable and accurate statistical information for evidence-based decision-making. 

“In that context, the Ministry of Agriculture, in consultation with stakeholders across the agricultural sector and in collaboration with Statistics Botswana, developed an Agriculture Sector Statistics Plan (ASSP). A draft plan is available and plans are underway for its approval by the Ministry of Agriculture leadership,” Dambuza says.

Importantly, the ASSP acknowledges that there is increasing demand for data on cash crops such as horticulture. Dambuza says that such data is currently not the focus of annual agricultural surveys which are primarily focused on major crops (maize, sorghum, millet) and livestock (cattle, sheep and goats).

Under the current arrangement, data on horticulture is produced by MoA and although SB will play a role in the future, the situation will remain fundamentally unchanged.  

“As part of the implementation of the ASSP, once approved, Statistics Botswana will capacitate departments of the Ministry of Agriculture to follow internationally approved statistical methodologies, standards and classifications so that the information produced is internationally comparable.  The ministry will therefore continue to produce data on horticulture,” says Dambuza, adding that the training departments will start after approval of the ASSP.

By his account, the inability to produce horticultural statistics has in no way affected the accuracy of the overall agricultural statistics that SB produces.

Dambuza explains that the data on the major livestock and crops comprise the core set of agricultural statistics that the country is expected to produce, among others, for comparison with other countries, according to the United Nations Global Strategy for Improving Agricultural Statistics. 

“The coverage of horticulture under annual agricultural surveys is very limited and therefore for purposes of decision-making, statistical information on horticulture is obtainable from the Ministry of Agriculture.  This does not affect the accuracy of the annual agricultural statistics on the major crops and livestock,” he says. 

The value chain analysis aims to support the government’s objectives on diversifying Botswana’s economy and PSDP aims to promote the private sector, in particular by supporting the development of SMMEs.

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