Saturday, June 19, 2021

Will Agriculture ever rebound to levels that will ensure food self-sufficiency?”

Despite the general acknowledgement that Botswana is a semi-arid country that receives sparse rainfall amounts, which makes Agriculture prone to natural risks such as drought, no one was prepared for the chronic intensity of the dry spell this year and the resultant ruin to harvests and livestock.

Botswana has been struggling to resuscitate the Agriculture sector over the last few years, with massive cash injections and empowerment initiatives meant to cushion farmers against challenges like limited rainfall and disease outbreaks. However, it remains clear that the Agriculture sector will have to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles before it can register positive growth, especially because of the prolonged dry spell. Together with Utilities, Agriculture was cited as one of the two sectors in the national economy that registered negative growth in the second quarter of 2015.

Despite all these challenges, government has put Agriculture as one of its key priorities, and organizations such as Botswana Development Corporation (BDC) and Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) have centred promotion of agriculture production as part of their key mandates.

However, for financial institutions such as these, the endeavour to bolster Agriculture production is often derailed by the inconsistent and often non-existent returns. BDC for example cites that in recognising the risks of investing in the agricultural sector, especially in a drought prone country such as Botswana, it assists in evaluating feasibility studies through the provision of agricultural technical information and experiences, with regards to modern farming in Botswana.

Menate Koneno is a cattle weaners production farmer whose farm is located at Meleko farms in Xanagas area. Koneno first received funding of P49, 000 through the Youth Grant Scheme in 2008. She registered her business with the Local Enterprise Authority (LEA) in the same year and has received assistance aimed enabling her to grow and manage her business well. With the assistance of LEA, her business received funding from CEDA to the tune P495 000 in October 2010. Fast forward to 2016, Koneno watches helplessly as the drought is slowly destroying everything she has worked very hard to accumulate. She said in an interview with Sunday Standard that in 2014 she had 93 breeding stock and three bulls, which are slowly being destroyed by lack of water and grazing land.

“It is tough. I’ve stopped repaying the CDEA loan even though it is against our agreement because I am struggling to make ends meet,” she said.

The agreement requires her to make a yearly repayment of P112, 000 to CEDA.            

France Kanguaiko on the other hand tells a more encouraging story. He owns a small stock business situated at Okarue cattle post in Charleshill. He received funding from the National Development Bank (NDB) to the tune of P250, 000 to construct kraals, drill and equip a borehole and fence his 1km x 1km paddock. While he acknowledged the problems caused by drought, his biggest gripe is the expensive feed that he has to buy for his cattle. He however holds pride in the over 330 cattle that he has in stock.

“Farming like any job cannot be run by remote control; it needs a present manager,” he said.

These two example highlight the conundrum in which stakeholders in the Agriculture sector find themselves. These unfortunate circumstances threaten the hopes and earnest efforts of both farmers and government to increase the sector’s contribution to the economy. It also puts a veil of doubt on the commercial viability of farming, given that financial institutions suffer the dire consequences of failure due to non-payment of loans. Food self-sufficiency remains an illusion and there is no guarantee that
agriculture will recover to its glory days of yester year.

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