Monday, September 21, 2020

We should not move our eyeballs off the agric sector

This week, the Botswana Daily News quoted the Member of Parliament for Chobe, Gibson Nshimwe, as saying agriculture was the future. We cannot agree with Honourable Nshimwe more.

It is not a secret that Botswana relies heavily, perhaps too heavily, on South Africa for her food supplies.
Our belief is that a nation that cannot feed itself is a lost one.
Botswana has to do more to reach her food self-sufficiency.

While in the wholesome South Africa has been a reliable trading partner, such a heavy reliance on a foreign country can, in other circumstances, easily degenerate into a national security risk.

Today’s international geopolitics is highly volatile and increasingly unpredictable. Our lack of self reliance on food security can be likened to the bomb that is just about to explode in the energy sector. Many lessons can be learnt from that front.
We are in trouble today because South Africa is not able to meet her own energy needs.

When that happens, the natural instinct is to cut exports even if it means breaching long standing contracts.
It is only when we are able to feed ourselves as a nation that we can rest assured that our fate and future as a country is in our hands. At the moment, it is difficult to predict the country’s future when we cannot feed ourselves.

We are of the conviction that Botswana is capable and able to feed itself without importing its food, at least not so heavily from South Africa. The argument is based on the abundance of resources that the country has- like land.

No one can take the land resource from us. All we need to do is to learn to work it and harness it.

Who would believe that before independence agriculture contributed 65 percent to the GDP. Systematically it has been diminishing, so much so that it has now dwindled to less than three percent.

Of course, mineral growth has been phenomenal, but in real terms agricultural output has been shrinking.
Those in the know say that as a country we neglected the sector and relied heavily on diamonds while at the same time relying heavily on the imports from South Africa.

As was the case with electricity, we were duped into believing that food imports were cheaper than investing in a sustainable long term agricultural future.

Now we are not able to feed ourselves and this threatens food security.

We have seen in the past how livestock disease outbreak in South Africa has tended to paralyse supply chains in Botswana.

That cannot be good for a nation.
There is no doubt that climatic conditions, especially the unreliable rainfall has been a source of problems.

However, this does not mean we should fold our arms and give up on the dream self sufficiency in food production.
Our belief is that with more imagination, we could still produce more that we have been, notwithstanding the harsh climatic conditions.

For example, with a more developed and focused irrigation system, we certainly could be in a better position to utilise many of our rivers to enhance our agricultural output. The country needs more projects like Masedi and Talana farms.

Agriculture has proved a very sustainable source of employment.
Other countries use the sector to raise foreign exchanges, the same we do with diamonds.

Because our agric sector is not so developed, we are bound to lose out on the SADC Free Trade Area that came into effect two years ago.

Poorly developed infrastructure means that the venture is exorbitantly expensive.

Under the free trade area, although we have market access of the over 200 million people in SADC, we cannot take advantage of the numbers.

However, we note with reassurance that Government, and especially President Khama, seems to be steadfast in its commitment to revolutionalise agricultural production and take the sector to new heights.

This is in light of programmes like ISPAAD and reinvigorated approach to focusing on young people.

That said, as in any other business, it is important to understand from the onset that not every Motswana is going to be a farmer.

It is therefore important for Government to come up with a strategy by way of identifying and selecting a number of people who have a high passion for agriculture and concentrate on helping them.

If such a number is well empowered with resources and all capital that is needed there is no doubt that such people would turn the fortunes of the sector around and go as far as to feed the entire nation.

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