Dry land farmers in Botswana are waiting in anticipation for President Ian Khama to declare drought so they can benefit from the ACGS, a crop protection cover tailor made to reduce their debt obligation in the event of crop failure due to drought, floods, frost and hailstorms.
Reports indicate that it’s only a matter of time before the President makes the statutory declaration as most farmers were hard hit by drought in the 2014/15 ploughing season, with crops failing due to prolonged dry spells and scorching heat waves. By March this year, reports emerged that maize prices were likely to shoot up on the back of a drought in neighbouring South Africa.
A number of farmers belonging to Mosisedi Farmers Association were also not spared by the drought. The farmers’ operations were bankrolled by NDB, which is hardly surprising since agriculture is at the core of the bank’s business operations.
“NDB took a conscious decision to focus on agriculture, support food security and empower Batswana. That’s why 60% of our business is focused on agriculture,” says Lorato Morapedi, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NDB.
NDB spent P110m financing farming projects in the 2014/15 ploughing season and a further P125m in 2015/16. Beneficiaries include 35 large scale farmers in Pandamatenga and another 18 in Mosisedi. While the 2013/14 ploughing season produced a bumper harvest, the drought hit hard in 2014/15 as crops have failed due to prolonged dry spells and scorching heat waves. One of the farmers in Mosisedi, Jan Kronje explained that the biggest challenge to farming in Botswana was climate change.
“My farm got only 90mm of rain this season. Though we had enough moisture underground, the soil was too hot and the plants ended up rejecting the hot underground water,” he said.
In November alone, temperatures ranged between 22 and 38 degrees Celsius. Research shows that rainfall amounts have been dwindling over the years. In November 2010, Mosisedi enjoyed 105mm of rain, which fell to 48mm in November 2014. Rainfall amounts fell from 130mm in January 2010 to 5mm in January 2015. 63mm of rain fell in February 2010 compared to 5mm in February this year.
Because of the good rains in 2014, Kronje was able to sell 2,000 tonnes of sunflower and 40,000 tonnes of maize, raking in more than P5.5m in the process.
“It was the first time in the history of Botswana that the silos in Pitsane were filled by one man,” said Kronje proudly.
In 2015, Kronje planted 1,800 hectares of land at a total cost of P5.7 m, all of which was bankrolled by NDB. Because of the drought, he will salvage very little from his farm.
Another farmer, Dickson Baruakgomo also narrated how prolonged high temperatures burnt all his crops.
“As it is, we will be lucky if we salvage 30% of our expected yield,” he said.
In 2013, Baruakgomo spent P500, 000 of his own money de-bushing his farm. NDB loaned him P1m in 2014 when he ploughed for the first time. It was a bumper year and he was able to generate P1.7m after producing 120 tonnes of sorghum and 4,000 bags of maize.
However, Baruakgomo was not so fortunate this year and he says he will be lucky to harvest 50 tonnes from the 350 tonnes that he initially expected. At his farm, Baruakgomo actively ploughs a total 510 hectares; and he has leased an additional 200 hectares from other small scale farmers.
“As a large scale farmer, I assist other farmers by ploughing for them through ISPAAD. In return, I develop their farms and give them three out of every 20 bags from the produce,” he said.
At 836 hectares, Quett Rabai’s farm is the largest among his peers at Mosisedi Farmers Association. Rabai, who is also the association’s Chairman, says this year’s rainfall was equivalent to one month of rain from the whole of last year. So far he has collected 60 tonnes of sorghum from the 150 hectares that he ploughed last year November. He ploughed another 300 hectares from the second week of December until 24th December and the last 300 hectares end of January 2015.
“I hope to harvest more crops from the 300 hectares that I ploughed end of January. My target is 2.5 tonnes per hectare,” he says.
In 2014, Rabai harvested 600 tonnes of sorghum after de-bushing and ploughing 200 hectares of his 836 hectare farm. Rabai also revealed that dry land farming involves use of very expensive equipment.
“A tractor and a planter alone will cost you around P2m. I sourced close to P2m from NDB during the current ploughing season. I employ 20 people in my farm; the number rises up to 30 during harvesting,” says Rabai.
The current drought situation in Botswana is reminiscent of the year 2013, when drought laid bare Botswana’s precarious food security situation and compelled government to splash P165 million on drought relief and food safety net measures. Once again crops have failed due to prolonged dry spell and heat waves. By March this year, reports emerged that maize prices were likely to shoot up on the back of a drought in neighbouring South Africa.
The huge losses suffered by farmers this year spell doom not only for the country but for farmers and the NDB.
However, their hope lies in the ACGS, a crop protection cover tailor made to reduce farmers’ debt obligations in case of crop failure due to drought, floods, frost and hailstorms. The AGCS was established in 1986 and is managed by the Ministry of Finance and predominantly utilised by NDB and CEDA. Government provides funds to pay claims under the scheme while NDB is responsible for processing claims for submission to government on behalf of farmers in the event of drought. NDB also contributes 5percent of the annual instalment paid by farmers as part of the AGCS premium. Farmers are responsible for paying the annual ACGS premium, which is also pegged at 5percent of their annual instalment. Farmers are also bound to pay 15percent of the annual instalment due when drought has been declared. The scheme covers citizens and citizen registered companies carrying out rain fed crop production in Botswana.