Climate change, shrinking land sizes, input prices, and economic hardships have left arable farmers in Botswana depressed. Yet the nation is still looking up to them to make the country’s food secure after being reliant on imports for many years.
Unprecedented hikes in food prices have caused uncertainty in global food security, and in turn, escalated Botswana’s food import bill which is currently more than US$615 million per annum, pressure is mounting on farmers to boost their productivity and plug on the missing food supply gaps.
This will however not be easy for arable farmers given that their venture is not just on the receiving end of high commodity prices including the most critical one – fuel but is also recording a rise in inputs prices.
In a further blow to production prospects, cash-strapped arable farmers will have to negotiate a better deal with Botswana Tractors Association directly or with individual members for use of their ‘machines’ during the current ploughing season.
Through the Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD), established by the Botswana government in 2008 to address challenges facing arable farmers, tractor owners are paid to cultivate the land for arable farmers. But now there is trouble: the government has not revised the fees it pays to tractor owners on behalf of farmers for a while now. An umbrella body of tractor owners known as the Botswana Tractors Association (BTA) recently decried high fuel prices and tractor parts which have left its members running at a loss over the past several years.
BTA Secretary General Goememang Nyatshane says that draught power rates have remained stagnant for more than a decade whilst inflation, fuel and spare prices have been steadily increasing. Against this backdrop, the members of the association recently decided to implement cost recovery measures to cushion tractor owners’ costs and losses arising out of this misnomer.
Under ISPAAD, the association has proposed that prices per hectare be adjusted to P3441 while the price for conventional broadcasting will be charged at P1200 per hectare.
But now the government made a counter proposal indirectly through a press statement this past week. Under the revised draught power rates for the 2022/2023 cropping season, the government says it will pay P1400 per hectare for ploughing and row planting while the new harrowing rate is set at P450.00 a hectare and a P900 per hectare for tillage.
On Monday, through the State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Mokgweetsi Masisi announced that ISPAAD will be phased out and replaced with what he called ‘Temo Letlotlo’.
“Due to operational challenges, Temo-Letlotlo programme which is to replace the ISPAAD programme will now be implemented during the 2023/2024 financial year. To this end, the current ISPAAD programme will continue during the 2022/2023 ploughing season. Temo-Letlotlo is intended to improve productivity and promote commercialised arable farming,” reads part of Masisi’s SONA speech.
But even before the Monday confirmation, the government had already given a hint of its intention to halt ISPAAD. The Agriculture Ministry has said that the new ISPAAD will be guided by a new transformative programme that has been developed to enhance agricultural productivity and output growth as well as promote inclusive agricultural production. The decision was taken to review the outgoing ISPAAD after it failed to reap meaningful dividends as the government usually receives outputs averaging 47 percent of the investment.
Farmers on the other hand have continuously decried the pricing of their produce with the state-owned Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) accused of offering low purchase prices. The pricing worry is not unique to small-scale farmers only. In May this year, Pandamatenga’s dry land commercial farmers expressed worries that BAMB is not increasing the prices for sorghum despite the rising cost of production.
According to the farmers, the cost of production for sorghum has increased by almost 40 percent this year. On the other hand, BAMB has only increased its purchasing prices for grain by a mere 15 percent. Pandamatenga Farmers Association Chairperson, Ryan Neal indicated that due to low BAMB buying prices which do not match the cost of production, sorghum farming is no longer profitable. Neal indicated that in 2021 cost of production for sorghum increased by around 38 percent.
The farmer’s troubles also coincide with continued economic fallout from the climate shocks, Covid 19 pandemic and lately high energy prices due the Russia-Ukraine war.