11 January 2016

Botswana: Food Shortage Looms, As Drought Bites

Photo: Petra Diamonds
(file photo)

Botswana is facing a serious prospect of food shortage following severe drought characterised by extreme heat level and limited rainfall which has made it difficult for farmers to plough this year.

Should the dry and hot conditions persist, the country is likely to face a severe shortage of grains especially maize.

According to statistics Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) which buys and store cereals for future use is in short of maize because of less supply. BAMB's annual report indicated that the supply had terribly gone down in the 2014/2015 ploughing season as they managed to get only 239 Metric tonnes (Mt) of maize compared to 13, 669 Mt the previous season.

Tables in original report here >>

In December 2015 BAMB spokesperson was quoted in the media as saying BAMB's strategic reserves were standing at 30 000 tonnes of sorghum and 3000 tonnes of cow peas and they had no maize left. However, she further pointed out that a process of buying 5000 tonnes of maize from Zambia has already started. BAMB was also looking at other avenues of importing another additional 5000 tonnes of maize. Botswana has always been a net importer of maize, especially from South Africa. Statistics show that the country imports about 95% of its grain and the other 5% comes from local farmers through BAMB. The shortage signs had been visible during the 2014/2015 season, but it appears the situation was cushioned by the bumper harvest recorded during the previous season. In the 2013/2014 season Botswana got a record high production since 2008 when ISPAAD was introduced, with a total of 220 000 metric tonnes (Mt) produced of which 215 000 Mt was cereal.

Now that the drought has become even more severe, production has since nosedived. The country has seen a change in rainfall patterns, which resulted in unreliable rainfalls which is attributed to climate change. There are also now heat waves and late rains which dearly affect crop production. Because of this at the end of the 2014/2015 ploughing season the total production recorded had reduced to 140 000 Mt, of which cereal was at 90 000 Mt. The 2014/2015 season was declared a drought year by government. As the pinch of the drought is already felt by the nation, experts foresee an increase in food prices should the shortage of maize continue. The shortage poses a possible threat to the country's food security. This may as well pose a bigger problem as drought has not only hit Botswana but most Southern African countries. South Africa, where Botswana gets most of its maize, is reportedly facing a 5 million-tonne maize shortage itself and looking to import.

The chairman of Maize and Wheat Millers Botswana Nkosi Mwaba said the price of getting maize from South Africa is already 15% more than those of local prices. However, with the local production of maize going down, the millers have no option but to keep on importing even when the prices are going up. According to Mwaba, this could see the consumers also feeling the impact of increased price on finished goods. He said as millers they get only 5% of their maize from local famers through BAMB while importing the remaining 95%. "As a results the current maize shortage does not impact on us that much," he said. Mwaba said as millers they currently have enough maize to supply the country. According to him, local farmers can still do more to produce more maize to avert shortages in future. He concurred with the Minister of Agriculture Patrick Ralotsia who called on Batswana to adopt new technologies to be able to withstand the drought. Ralotsia was quoted recently as saying farmers need to align themselves with the demands of climate.

The minister said farmers should turn to no-tillage to preserve the little moisture in the soil. When practising no-tillage method, a farmer does not have to cultivate the soil which expose the moisture to the scorching heat but only insert seeds into the ground. Research has shown that this method improves the germination rate of crops. However, with the ever growing temperatures some farmers question this, saying even if the seeds germinate they will be killed by the high temperatures. This has been evident in the past years where farmers were forced to use the crops they planted for fodder as they failed due to late rains and high temperatures. As the rains decrease, the country continues to record very high temperatures. This week Botswana had record breaking temperatures with the highs of 44°C in Maun. According to an arable farmer in Kweneng Johannes Moabi, the high temperatures and unreliable rainfalls deters farmers from ploughing in numbers.

"It is because of this that now Batswana are becoming reluctant to engage in arable farming. We plant only for the crops to die before maturity because of the harsh climate conditions experienced in Botswana," said Moabi.Statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture predicts that arable farming has been allocated a total of 945 000 hectares. However up-to-date only 417 000 ha had been utilised during the 2013/14 ploughing season. Even though the introduction of ISPAAD has helped in improving the amount of land ploughed and number farmers who plough and plant, Ralotsia believes that a lot of land is still under-utilised.

Ralotsia had in the past called on Batswana to utilise the ploughing fields allocated to them so that they can improve food security in the country. According to him if all the land that is allocated for arable farming can be ploughed and planted food production can be improved drastically. Drought has not only affected the arable farming but also the pastoral farming sector has not been spared. Moving around the country carcases are found everywhere as there is no pasture or even water for livestock. Most farmers are left empty handed as their livestock is ravaged by these effects of drought. Government has however offered a 50% feeding subsidy for livestock.

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