Government intends taking drastic measures against negligent beneficiaries of the newly established Integrated Support Programme (ISPAAD) in a bid to enhance food security.
ISPAAD, a countrywide acclaimed agricultural support scheme, was formulated last year with intent to resuscitate the agricultural sector, which has dwindled considerably since the 1980s.
Apart from providing assistance through cluster fencing, provision of seeds, potable water and fertilizers, ISPAAD facilitates access to credit, the establishment of Agricultural Service Centers and draught power.
However, information on the ground suggests negligence is on the loose, inviting stern measures against the defaulters.
In his budget presentation Thursday, the Minister of Agriculture, Christian Degraaf, acknowledged the programme started at a wrong footing but categorically warned against negligence and idleness as information was rife some farmers were not determined.
“The programme took off slowly but we are optimistic that if used appropriately by serious farmers, it has the potential to turn around arable agriculture in the country. Let me categorically state to this House that those farmers who benefited from the ISPAAD programme but fail to manage their fields as available information suggests will be disqualified from the scheme next year to focus only on serious farmers,” warned Degraaf.
With regard to livestock management and infrastructure development, Degraaf informed parliament the programme was proceeding well.
“However, the major challenges still facing the applicants include inadequate supply of small stock; failure to raise the down payment for contribution and escalating stock prices. These challenges are particularly notable for the resource poor farmers,” he noted, challenging “young farmers in particular to take advantage of this supply gap for small stock as an opportunity to venture into small stock production.”
To effect mitigation measures for the looming food crisis, Degraaf revealed that the government issued the ministry with a special warrant of P224 million in July 2008, adding this was done by increasing the Strategic Grain Reserve held by BAMB from 10,000 metric tones of sorghum to a total stock of 70,000 metric tones of sorghum, maize and pulses.
“We are determined to use the inclusion of pulses in the SGR to promote the production of local pulses in the country with the support of BAMB,” he maintained.
Contributing to the budget, Gaborone North West MP, Robert Molefhabangwe, called on the government to back-pedal and re-introduce the animal draught power alongside the tractors provided by the ISPAAD because, he said, of the availability of tractors which often take a long time to reach farmers.
“By the time these tractors reach the farmers, the moisture in the ground would have already disappeared, leaving the farmers empty handed. But if the government could provide donkeys and cattle to plough nothing would be lost,” Molefhabangwe said, arguing further the move could save government millions of pula as opposed to the machines that are fuel propelled.
For his part, Gaborone North MP, Keletso Rakhudu, argued the field assistants were difficult to reach as more often they are unavailable in the offices.
“They do not have transport and if you happen to reach them, they are always a burden as you would transport and return them,” he argued, pleading with the minister to provide transport for the officers.
Although the MPs voiced some concerns, the budget was passed to stand as part of the schedule of the Appropriation bill 2009/2010.