COMMENTARY: Prepare for drought

SHARE   |   Monday, 28 September 2015   |   By Othusitse Tlhobogang

The Department of Metrological Services has forecast low rainfall-below normal to normal rains-in most parts of the country, in the coming rainy season (October 2015 to March 2016). The outlook further indicates that the north and southern parts of the country will experience moderately dry and extremely dry conditions in the period of November, December to January. Extremely dry season is predicted over the south eastern regions, the worst dry season for the past 34 years over these areas. Overall, a deficit in rainfall is expected over the coming rainfall season mainly due to the potentially persistent strong El Nino conditions.

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We dare say the forecast should not be taken to mean that it is not going to rain at all and farmers should ready themselves to take advantage of every single drop that comes their way. The forecast is based on the state of the Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs) over the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans. The SSTs anomalies in east and central Pacific Ocean are depicting strong El Nino conditions which is likely to peak during the southern hemisphere summer. It is expected that the well above average SSTs in the Indian ocean and the expected strong El Nino conditions will have a major influence on the weather and climate systems over Botswana although they are not the only influencing factors for rainfall. It is scary to learn that there is a greater than 90% chance that El Nino will continue through the southern hemisphere summer and around 85% chance it will last into early autumn 2016.

This forecast low rainfall could spell doom for small subsistence farmers who make the majority of the agriculture sector, supporting a large section of the population. Already there are signs that pastures are in a poor state, and livestock has started showing deteriorating quality. Therefore farmers should come up with other strategies of trying to save their livestock in the dry season including using the first rains to plough fodder for their animals. Farmers should also consider growing crops that mature early and use them to feed their livestock instead of looking to government to provide all solutions. Farmers should be proactive in preparing for hard times ahead and to take advantage of relief measures, which government has put in place to mitigate the impact of the drought. Alternatively farmers could reduce their stock while their cattle are still in a good condition and remain with manageable herds, which they can afford to assist with supplementary feeding. Soon after declaring a drought government has come up with subsidies like the 25 per cent for livestock feeding promotion. On the other hand farmers are complaining that government takes too long to help them, which lead to livestock losses due to droughts. 

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The sad news of a drought could not have come at the worst time. Botswana is currently grappling with debilitating water shortage especially in the southern parts of the country and many had hoped the coming season would help alleviate the problem. It is at times like these that farmers should pool their resources together and form clusters through which they can enjoy support from government programmes designed to assist the agriculture sector. Such assistance programmes include ISPAAD, LIMID where farmers are supplied with free seeds, drought power and fuel/ lubricants and different other components like fencing material. In clusters farmers can exchange skills on how to cushion against drought and share resources to sustain their livestock through the dry spell.

With no rains we can hope for the best but expect the worst. It could get worse before it gets better.



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