The chaos and violent demonstrations at Botswana College of Agriculture (BCA) in the last two weeks mirror a failure that has become an institution, which for all intents and purposes should be the cornerstone of the local economy. Inability to resolve grievances over student welfare and unsatisfactory catering standards is a microscopic reflection of why BCA - the biggest agriculture institution in the country - has failed to save the agriculture sector from declining over the years from a contribution to GDP of well over 46 per cent at independence to less than two per cent currently.
Formal employment in the sector has suffered the same fate. Even at such miniscule contribution to the GDP it is not in dispute that agriculture remains the main sector on which a large section of our population is dependent on. Agriculture still holds the potential to turn around and diversify our economy away from diamonds and mining through creation of jobs, and in the process improve food security by cutting down on imports.
Quite correctly, an expert observes that, farmers are not doing more of what they should be doing. The need to change the mind-set of our people and show them that agriculture is business and should not be done part time cannot be overstated. But to achieve this, we have to teach them the use of new technology to help increase production. And this is where BCA and other stakeholders enter the picture.
BCA was set up to modernise agriculture through research and produce experts in this sector, who will then take a lead in transforming this nation that has survived over the years through agriculture anyway. That the institution has failed to produce tangible results in this area is an understatement. The vast land around the institution and the paddocks lie idle while milk and horticulture production should be the mainstay through which the institution funds its existence. Sadly and even humiliating is that the leaders of the institution seek to look outside for easy supply and solutions that they should be rather delivering to the greater economy. BCA should be feeding at least the whole of Gaborone in varied commodities from their students and workers alike.
The leadership should not be complaining about underfunding, which was repeated before the Parliamentary Committee on Statutory Bodies last week. Is this what the leadership of the institution is hired for - To complain, rather than being innovative? Now BCA is about to become a university. The decision to transform BCA into a standalone university of agriculture is long overdue, even as this will not cover up for past failures. BCA has failed over the years to address concerns about poor quality and unskilled graduates by, for example, aligning their programmes to the ploughing season so that the graduates have time to get practical skills.
It is also mind boggling that an educational institution has remained under the Ministry of Agriculture, whose biggest achievement has been bragging about being the ministry with the largest number of PHD holders at government enclave. Those PHDs - which cost millions in public funds - have failed to save agriculture and improve the livelihood of our people. We can only hope this new creature will deliver better results than its predecessor. Again we simply do not expect the same management that has failed to deliver at small scale to be the one responsible for transforming the institution into a University. After failing to create a habitable and clean learning environment for less than 500 students, it cannot be expected that they can deliver for thousands of students.
In fact, it is an anomaly that an institution of learning should be accommodated under a service ministry whose core business is not education. BCA or the new university should be relocated as a matter of urgency to the Ministry of Education and Skills Development. Just as the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) has not been accommodated under the Ministry of Infrastructure, Science and Technology so should be the case with the agriculture university. Skills development and Education is a core business of the Ministry of Education.
We note that HRDC has established Agriculture Sector Committee targeted at improving skills in the sector for better production, and they have already released a draft human resource development plan. To turn around the agriculture sector we need more skilled labour to adapt new production technology, and move quickly towards agro-processing. As repeatedly stated, there is a need for agro-processing industries in the country to add value to the commodities produced locally and create more employment opportunities for Batswana.