Batswana’s failure to satisfy its quota of beef supplies to the European Union (EU) market is not only attributed to the foot and mouth disease, as the loss of thousands of cattle during dry seasons is also a contributing factor.
The threat posed by climate change, where scientists forecast shortage of food and water the world over due to prolonged dry spells, makes it imperative for Botswana to seek avenues of reviving the ailing agriculture sector. These sentiments were shared by Simon Mahosi, Director of Envirosys Botswana-a company that formulates environmental systems for sustainable development-during an interview at his Nepia and Vetiver grasses seed bed field in the out skirts of Oodi village.
After realizing that Batswana import most of their cattle feed from South Africa, Mahosi and his colleagues came up with a project that will improve stock feed supplies in the country. The project promotes production of fodder. The Oodi seed bed comprises of several fields leased from local farmers and totaling 31 hectares. The fields border a river that is a ‘soak away’ of the Glen Valley water treatment plant; and water from the river is used for irrigation. Mahosi said irrigation should be used in fodder production to ensure that yields are sustainable.
The project is being carried out in phases. The team has currently planted about three hectares of land, while some seedlings are still awaiting transplantation. Mahosi also revealed that some 150 hectors of land has been secured in the Kweneng District for production of Nepia and Vetiver grasses. He is also at advanced stages of rolling out the project to other areas like Shoshong.
The stock feed will be sold to Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB), which is the main importer of fodder from South Africa. Mahosi said he received a lot of support from BAMB, which also advised him to ensure that production is spread out through the whole country.
“It’s unfortunate that Botswana has consistently failed to satisfy demand from lucrative markets even though we are big cattle producers. We have also failed to satisfy demand for meat in our country. But there is only one reason for this; because we have failed to produce food for our own cattle,” said Mahosi.
In response to reasons given by some Batswana that poor irrigation and water scarcity have discouraged them from ploughing, Mahosi said Batswana should make use of available portable water.
“We have to change. It’s up to us as Batswana to ensure that the agriculture sector returns to its former glory. This calls for change in approach,” said Mahosi.
The Nepia grass, capable of growing up to more than four meters high, is usually ready for harvest within two and half months. It can also be used for biomass production. Mahosi revealed that he harvests 45 tonnes per hector every year. The Vetiver grass produces up to 13 – 15 tonnes per hectare. It grows as high as one and half meters and its roots penetrate two meters deep. Its advantage is that it can provide manure to other plants next to it. It is also more palatable to animals than all other fodders. The fodder production project can also create employment as four people are needed to manage every hectare.
“A hectare of Nepia can sustain 35 dairy cattle all year round-harvested using the cut and carry method. This is an ideal product for dairy farmers and those who operate feed lots,” said Mahosi.