Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Panda can be transformed into food basket

As Botswana struggles to reduce its high food import bill, Pandamatenga Commercial Farmers Association (PCFA) outgoing chairman, Tiene Kruger, whose term expires next March, is upbeat that Panda commercial farms can be transformed into the country’s food basket. ?

With 32 commercial farms producing 92 percent of the national grain requirement, there is every reason why Kruger who relocated to Botswana from South Africa in 1986, is optimistic that the area has potential to be turned into the country’s food basket. ?

Despite numerous challenges that the commercial farmers in the area continue to encounter from time to time, Kruger is hopeful that a lot of interventions have been implemented to ensure optimal grain output.

As he grapples for suitable words to describe this year’s ravaging drought, his farming spirit is, however, not dampened. In his view, although very much worried with the effects of global warming, he remains optimistic over the area’s production future which he says is expected to increase by another 30 000 tonnes from the current 60 000 tonnes.

His optimism is premised on the fact that 25 000 hectares of land has been availed to the farmers and once in full production, output is set to undoubtedly rise.

“Panda is already Botswana’s food basket. There are 32 commercial farmers producing 92 percent of the country’s grain requirements. This translates to 60 000 tonnes of grain production in a good year. With the addition of 25 hectares, production will definitely increase by another 30 000 tonnes. As more farmers adopt modern farming methods, there is no reason why we can’t turn this area into Botswana’s food basket,” said Kruger, adding that the P400 million government financed infrastructure upgrade is a recipe for increased production.

While he applauds government initiatives in propping up commercial farming in the area, he nonetheless concedes that there are a lot of challenges that have to be surmounted. The challenges range from lack of basic amenities (hospital, shopping malls), exorbitant electricity connection fees to lack of merchandised equipment shops to recreational facilities.

Other challenges include short ploughing and planting season emanating from erratic rainfall in addition to the black cotton that is not easy to plough.

“Initially, Panda was a difficult area for crop farming because of the black cotton soil. There was no infrastructure to support farming efforts. There were no access roads into the fields and with the P400 million infrastructure upgrade that includes sewerage development and other supportive facilities, there will be no justification for failing to transform the area into Botswana’s food basket. We are now able to move big machinery into the fields and cover a lot of ground that was impossible to cover in the past. We have also changed a lot of ploughing methods in sync with technological developments. Farming techniques have improved drastically and we need to adapt to the changes,” said Kruger.

He added that output will have to be increased to match with increasing demand, explaining that while Botswana needs up to 120 00 tonnes of sorghum, the current production at Panda stands at about 50 percent of the national requirement.

Kruger is excited that some farmers have also moved into production of beans. “To achieve food security, there is need for more serviced land. Government understands this and is in a position to help us. Initially government didn’t understand the challenges we faced but the situation has been improving slowly for the better. A lot of changes are being instituted,” said the outgoing chairman emphasizing that small farmers should not be left behind.

“Commercial farmers should assist small farmers so as to generate increased farming interest.

Government support through various schemes likes ISPAAD is encouraging. These initiatives are helping the farming community to produce more. The subsidies like the 30 percent subsidy on some of our inputs (seeds, fertilizers and herbicides) are some of the government initiatives that should inspire us to do more in this area,” said Kruger, adding that it is laudable that small farmers are getting 100 percent subsidies.

Describing this year’s drought as the worst ever since he started his business in Panda, Kruger is alive to the challenges presented by global warming.

“Global warming is becoming a serious threat. It is a killer. Government has to do something about it otherwise Africa will die first because it is not developed. Appropriate research should be instituted to address the issue. We need deliberate action from the political leadership to address the issue. It is wreaking havoc. I don’t have to isolate Panda when it is ravaged by droughts of this magnitude. All the world leaders with scientists must stand and get together to find appropriate means to avert this disaster. Global warming is a killer in disguise and all efforts should be geared towards finding a solution,” said a visibly concerned Kruger, adding that Botswana as a small country that cannot do anything on its own to address the problem hence the need for a global approach.

He urged Botswana and other African countries to influence the industrialized world to address the issue of global warming.

“Botswana in conjunction with other African countries should get Europe to listen and take action because it is the industrialized world that is destroying the climate. Their rate of industrialization is affecting the climate and thereby killing small players,” said Kruger, adding that more infrastructure development should be made in light of the ongoing plans to extract water from the Zambezi River.

He called for intensified mechanized farming facilities to make the area cope with the ever increasing country food demand.

Kruger is happy that financial institutions have not been dragging their feet in assisting the farmers as long as they are able to provide the necessary security. “Investment has grown substantially. With anything below P6 million it is impossible to do anything viable on a 500 hectare farm. Although raising security is a challenge, funding institutions have not been too strict. They have been receptive as they are convinced of the project’s viability,” said the outgoing chairman who urged for construction of a railway line to the area.

He said a railway line would reduce the cost of transporting heavy equipment and machinery into the areas as well as taking out the produce to end users.

His view is that lack of refinery and processing plants inhibit the area’s farming potential. “There is no reason why after 47 years of independence we should still be exporting sunflower to external markets. Panda should have its own cooking refinery plant. If need be, that is where government should intervene. Why should we be dependent on other countries for markets? This is not desirable at this point in time when we are preaching food security,” said Kruger, adding that Botswana is committing suicide by failing to be self-sufficient in food production.

The other issue that concerns Kruger is the high electricity connection fee which he describes as “unaffordable”. “One has to pay over P2 million for 13 km electricity connection line. This is quite expensive. ┬áAlthough government has invested heavily in infrastructure, there are still shortfalls that need to be urgently addressed. We feel embarrassed to continue asking for more government but it is only appropriate that government talks to BPC to grant us longer repayment plans. We don’t want to be beggars but once water is availed from Zambezi River, we will no doubt need a lot of electricity for irrigated farming,” said Kruger, adding that, currently, diesel generated electricity is cheaper than BPC connection.

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