Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Local farmers struggling on the wrong side of the dairy supply chain

While the Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) has taken a step towards addressing the problem of food security in the country, especially in the dairy industry, it appears local farmers are not prepared to partake in the lucrative business’ value chain.

In Lobatse, it is expected that works will finally start in setting up a plant following a groundbreaking ceremony held recently, at which BDC was unveiled as a partner for the dairy project.

BDC is said to have invested close to P100 million in the Milk Afric dairy and processing plant, after the project was delayed for close to two years.

Although this week Agricultural experts maintained that local farmers could take part in the supply of fodder, it seems on the ground none of the farmers are ready to take advantage of the opportunity. Two of the country’s registered suppliers of Napier grass, one of the fodder products decry low, if not poor demand for the product.

“Batswana as you might be aware are unwilling to buy Napier grass though a call was made beginning of this year for a 50 per cent subsidy for the seedlings by the Ministry of Agriculture. The initiative is even enrolled in ISPAAD. A few of us registered to be suppliers but we are still waiting for the customers. Worse still, there seems to be poor communication even within government offices. Fodder department of the Ministry here in Mahalapye seems unaware of these developments,” said Batshani Chakalisa whose farm is near Mahalpye. He added that farmers who come to him just ask for a few seedlings saying they are going to pilot.

As for Simon Mahosi, whose farm is in Oodi, he has had quite few commercial farmers who got Napier seedlings from him. They invested their own money and did not use ISPAAD.

“I once contacted the ISPAAD officials and they informed me that they are still dealing with supplies of the current cropping season subsequent to which they would deal with the Napier grass subsidy program. They promised to start it soon,” he said.

A subsistence farmer at Rakola lands near Gabane, Ramathe Mmoke suggested that for them not to be closed out they need to collaborate and combine their five to 10 hectors fields and utilize boreholes that are not utilized because of underground pollution to water the product.

“It can be a good idea my brother, but convincing people and actually starting on a project together is a mammoth task. That is why Asians like Indians will continue beating us businesswise. We always think negatively, act negatively; thus, negativity is always the fruit of our coming together,” he said.

In response to Sunday Standard questions, Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security, Felix Mothatego explained that the main focus of the ISPAAD programme is to increase grain production in order to achieve food security at both household and national level.

However, he said, “During the ISPAAD review of the 2012/13 cropping season, fodder production was included as one of the components under the programme hence its enrolment during the 2013/14 cropping season. The component has always been there since 2013/14 cropping season on seasonal basis..”

He buttressed that Fodder crops seed subsidy is available at 50 per cent subsidy for all farmer categories (i.e. subsistence, emerging and commercial) for a maximum of 16Ha. However, Napier grass is only subsidized at 50 per cent covers only 0.5 hectares

“The maximum area to be covered under the program for Napier grass is 0.5 hectares. Farmers who opt for Napier grass will benefit only once in their life. To qualify for Napier grass assistance, farmers should have water sources for irrigation purposes. Farmers are advised to propagate their own seedlings where necessary to increase their hectares,” he said.

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