Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Objectively, ISIPAAD should be of no electoral use to Khama’s party

The newly-formed Botswana Patriotic Front, a creation of former President Ian Khama, will not be able to tout the number one item on the latter’s “achievements” list.

Upon taking over the reins of power in 2008, Khama introduced the Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD) to support and develop the agriculture sector. ISPAAD’s objectives were to increase grain production, promote food security at the household and national levels, commercialize agriculture through mechanisation, facilitate access to farm inputs and credit, and improve extension outreach. Asked by a Voice reporter what his main achievement as president was, he contentedly mentioned ISPAAD. On the basis of solid empirical evidence, Comrade Khama should never have said that then and shouldn’t repeat it when he starts campaigning for BPF.

In 2012, UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI) Botswana commissioned a Poverty and Social Impact Analysis of ISPAAD with the aim of analysing the performance of the programme. The study’s particular focus was on key programme activities and the impact on poor people, vulnerable groups and the environment. The findings relegate ISPAAD, which is still in place, to the bottom of the list of what Khama considers to be his achievements as Botswana president between 2008 and 2018. They indicate that the choice and distribution of seed was not based on agro-ecological zone considerations; that the majority of farmers received maize seed and grew it in areas not suitable for the crop and that this resulted in high incidence of crop failure and a reduction in yield; and that the size of most arable lands was relatively small for mechanical ploughing even though about 60 percent of ISPAAD beneficiaries utilized tractor draught power, mainly to produce crops for subsistence purposes.

At each and every opportunity he got ÔÇô like the state-of-the-nation address ÔÇô Khama would reel off impressive figures to show how well ISPAAD was doing. Conversely, the UNDP study found that productivity remained low and continued to decline during ISPAAD; that the national average grain productivity was 320kg/ha of grains against an expected ISPAAD target yield of 1,000kg/ha; and that domestic grain production only satisfied about 10 per cent of national staple grain requirement.

Going back to when Botswana established the Botswana Agricultural College (present-day Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources), agricultural extension workers (“balemisi” in Setswana) have always played an important role in rural agriculture. The UNDP report notes that ISPAAD had a negative impact on extension outreach as it overshadowed their core business.

“ISPAAD has taken time away from the core business of extension workers, rather than improving the quality of the extension services, who spent considerable time distributing seeds, measuring fields and preparing payment certificates. A high extension worker-to-farmer ratio meant that most extension workers did not adequately cover their extension areas because of time and transport shortages. Most farmers indicated that they would not see their extension workers more than twice during the agricultural season.”

There was deviation from another long-standing policy practice. Before someone benefits from a welfare payment or other public funds, an official investigation into that person’s financial circumstances (“means”) is conducted to determine eligibility.

Says the report: “ISPAAD is not means-tested but rather universally accessible. The eligibility criteria allow all active persons with access to arable land to benefit. This makes ISPAAD a non-discriminatory and very inclusive of all marginalized groups. However, as a result, the programme is prone to underperform and be misused and its long term sustainability could be seriously compromised.”

By facilitating access to draught power and farm implements, ISPAAD hopes to bring about an increased use of tractor power in primary tillage operations but the programme had “only a marginal impact” on commercializing arable agriculture in the country

“… very few farmers row planted or used inputs such as improved seeds and fertilizer which are characteristic of commercial farming because they did not have, nor did they have access to, the necessary equipment. Timely access to seed and fertilizer was compromised due to delivery challenges. Traditional farmers also did not benefit from the credit facility because they did not meet the requirements for obtaining loans at the National Development Bank.”

On the basis of either denial or firm conviction that ISPAAD was working, Khama poured a lot of money into the programme. Its annual expenditure rose from P159 million in 2008 to P220 million in 2013 ÔÇô with the latter representing approximately 80 percent of the annual budget of the Department of Crop Production in the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security. UNDP says that this investment only marginally contributed to the objective of promoting food security and mostly enriched private tractor owners: “Comparative analysis of average grain production for the period 1982 to 2007/08 and during ISPAAD (2008/09 to 2011) indicates no significant difference in average total production between the two periods. Almost 70 percent of the ISPAAD budget goes into funding the ploughing component, 60 percent of which goes to private tractor owners. Hence, the objective of enhancing mechanised farming seems to have largely benefited private tractor owners.”

At the time of the study, annual expenditure on ISPAAD operations exceeded annual proceeds (estimated total value of production) in all the cropping seasons since the inception of the programme. The study shows that the estimated annual proceeds per unit of outlay remained less than one for the entire ISPAAD period and that the net present value of benefits which accrued from ISPAAD operations was negative.

“In fact, the value of the total agricultural production under ISPAAD is substantially lower than the total cost of the ISPAAD programme with all its packages and benefits.”

On the whole, UNDP found that while the objectives and service packages of ISPAAD programme seemed desirable from a national agricultural development perspective, the execution and outcomes of the programme had failed to achieve the intended objectives making it a sub-economical and inefficient intervention from an investment and agricultural development point of view.

“Food security at both household and national levels has not improved during ISPAAD. Domestic grain production has not increased in terms of both total production and productivity (average yield per hectare).”Likewise, the Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA) has concluded that ISPAAD failed to reduce acreage diversity and may have depleted soil nutrients. While ISIPAAD should have been an improvement on the failed Accelerated Rainfed Arable Programme (ARAP), BIDPA found that that the programmes are essentially the same and yielded about the same results.

“First, reduced cultivation of legumes induced by ARAP and ISPAAD suggests that these programmes may have yielded the depletion of soil nutrients since legumes may be used to restore nitrogen in soils. Second, the ISPAAD-induced reduction in maize acreage share implies that the programme may have led to reduced exposure of subsistence producers to climate risk, since maize performs poorly during harsher climatic conditions. Finally, while ISPAAD may have induced output growth through expanding cultivated acreage, it may have worked against the achievement of the government objective of promoting acreage and broader agricultural diversification,” the BIDPA research says.

Objectively, ISPAAD’s failure should be of no use to Khama’s party but the freedom square considers a politician’s charisma to be more important than scientific fact. This oddity will allow Khama, who has become an unusually determined fake-news peddler, to continue touting ISPAAD as a resounding success.

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