Asked by The Voice to list his major achievements, the first thing former president Lieutenant General Ian Khama thought of was agriculture.
“We managed to get more youth into agriculture,” he responded. “Because of the recession, food prices were going up so I said where we could we should be able to produce our own food. We increased the production of cereal. The youth programmes we put into place, I still think that was a success, managing to arrest the increase in alcohol consumption.”
The fact of the matter though is that if empirical evidence sways this self-declared non-reader (and that is supposing he can somehow get through a mind-absorbing 34-page study from Africa’s best think tank) he will definitely be forced to reverse that assessment. One of the programmes that Khama was referring to is the Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD) which became the centrepiece of his government’s plan to revitalise agriculture. Largely a knock-off of the Accelerated Rainfed Arable Programme (ARAP), ISIPAAD is a universal input subsidy programme aimed at increasing grain production, promoting food security at national and household levels, commercializing agriculture through mechanization, facilitating access to farm inputs and credit and improving extension outreach. Its inputs include free seeds, fertilizers and – subject to acreage limits, ploughing subsidies to farmers.
Tebogo Seleka and David Mmopelwa of the Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA) have just completed a study on the effects of input subsidies on subsistence crop acreage diversity in Botswana. The country has a stated agricultural policy objective to diversify the food-grains sub-sector in order to reduce its dependence on staple cereals (sorghum and maize) as well as to increase the production of oilseeds (sunflower and groundnuts), and thereby commercialize this sub-sector. Through their study, Seleka and Mmopelwa wanted to find out whether ARAP and ISPAAD have played a role towards promoting crop diversification, or whether the programmes have instead promoted crop concentration. Of ISIPAAD, they found that this programme has reduced acreage diversity and “conflicted with the national objective” of promoting agricultural diversification.
“The ISPAAD input subsidy programme has led to a reduction in the shares of acreage allocated to maize and beans/pulses and has had no statistically significant effects on acreage shares for the other crops. In turn, ISPAAD has had a negative impact on acreage diversity,” they note in a working paper.
While ISIPAAD should have been an improvement on ARAP, their findings are 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.”
While recommending that the government should look into these problems, Seleka, who is BIDPA’s Executive Director, and Mmopelwa, a Research Fellow, are mindful of a theoretical counterargument that ISIPAAD’s objective to achieve household food security “is more important than that of achieving crop diversification.”
Khama’s government could not have deliberately set out to produce the adverse effects the BIDPA study notes and the authors describe such effects as “unintended”. As a matter of fact, they note that generally, “one of the unintended effects of input subsidies is that they may encourage farmers to concentrate on a few crops, which conflicts with the objectives of many governments and international development agencies to promote crop diversification.” As unintended were the effects of ARAP which was introduced during the administration of the late Sir Ketumile Masire whose public spiritedness has never been credibly questioned by anyone.
ARAP, which was in place for five years from the 1985/86 to the 1989/90 cropping season, provided inputs and other forms of financial assistance to arable farmers to further stimulate increased food-grain production and create rural employment. The programme had six packages: destumping, draught power, input procurement, fencing and water development. The programme led to an increase in the sorghum acreage share and a reduction in the acreage shares for beans/pulses, millet and groundnuts and showed no statistically significant impact on acreage diversity. While it led to increased cereal cultivated area, output and yields such benefits could not be sustained beyond its lifespan.
Botswana’s problem with acreage diversity precedes both ARAP and ISIPAAD. The BIDPA study found that the subsistence economy witnessed declining acreage diversity during the period 1978/79-1987/88, owing mainly to the increased share of acreage devoted to the then dominant crop of sorghum and decreases in the acreage shares of the second and third most prominent crops of maize and beans/pulses (respectively). Thus, this period was characterized by increasing concentration on sorghum and declining crop acreage diversity. However, during the period 1987/88-2006/07, the subsistence economy witnessed rising acreage diversity, mainly due to a reduction in the share of acreage devoted to sorghum production and increasing acreage shares for maize and pulses/beans. During the final period, 2006/07-2013/14, the share of acreage allocated to sorghum continued to decline while that for maize continued to rise. Since maize had overtaken sorghum to become the dominant crop, the subsistence economy now became concentrated on maize production, further yielding reduced acreage diversity. The study also found that “an increase in rainfall would instantaneously induce farmers to increase the cultivation of a riskier crop of maize and to reduce the cultivation of a relatively less risky crop of beans/pulses” which, in turn, would lead to reduced acreage diversity.
Overall, the results yield no evidence that the government strategy to promote diversification into oil seeds has been achieved. Instead, crop substitution has mainly been between the two dominant staples of sorghum and maize, and to a lesser extent beans/pulses. However, the trend variable estimates suggest that, over time, there has been a steady reduction in the shares of acreage allocated to sorghum and millet, in favour of maize, beans/pulses, groundnuts and other crops, and that sunflower acreage shares have remained stagnant.
“While the reasons for such increased diversification over time (ceteris paribus) are unknown, it could be because of extension information and knowledge dissemination to farmers, geared at promoting increased cultivation of non-cereal crops. It could have also been propelled by increased dietary diversity away from reliance on sorghum to other food crops; since subsistence farmers produce primarily to meet home consumption needs,” the authors say.
Crops grown in Botswana’s subsistence economy are classified into seven categories of sorghum, maize, millet, beans/pulses, groundnuts, sunflower and other crops. The category of “other crops” is an aggregate of minor crops such as melons, sweet-read and pumpkins. The BIDPA study says that reallocation of acreage across these crops would change the pattern of crop diversity.
BIDPA has conducted another study that, at least according to what the Palapye MP, Moiseraele Goya, was quoted as saying in the press, essentially refutes Khama’s assertion that getting youth into agriculture managed to arrest the increase alcohol consumption. Goya summarised the study, which was commissioned by the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry and hasn’t been made public, as concluding that the alcohol levy that Khama introduced in 2008 when he took over as president didn’t bring alcohol consumption down.