The current drought situation clearly calls for a major shift in the way we have been doing things. We should do our best to diversify the economy but do that mainly by focusing more on economic activities in which we will be assured of ultimate control over most if not all means of production. We should shift from relying more on rain water to digging and setting up boreholes that can ensure a more reliable water supply. We should move more towards irrigation farming. Efforts must be deliberately made to set up irrigation infrastructure for professional farmers that will ensure that no year passes without ploughing.
We need to break the circle of having to wait for summer as a season for ploughing. Just as the minister of Agriculture is calling for a change in the soil tilling system to non-tilling one, he should go further and deploy infrastructure in farms that defies the rain circle. Irrigation farming should now be accelerated to go beyond horticulture production to any other crop. Unless we wise up, we will end up with zero production of crops in some seasons and as result face heavy cost of cereal that will have to be bought outside the country. As things stand, it is already a forgone conclusion that this season the cost of most food items shall go up. The country has already run out of maize and has to import it. With little ploughing having taken place this year, it means food shortage will continue well into the next year.
It remains shocking that after so many years of independence the country is still an overall net importer of its cereal needs. Botswana has always been a net importer of maize especially from countries like South Africa. Statistics show that the country imports about 95% of its grain and only 5% come from the local farmers. This means that we are a highly compromised nation as we are barely self-sufficient in anything. Food security should be a primary focus for any nation to ensure that at any given time its people should not starve due to conflict or any unforeseen circumstance that creates a fall-out with a supplier. If we go to war with any of our suppliers we will be highly vulnerable since we will not have our food requirements.
As we celebrate 50 years of independence we should as a nation relook at food production system and ways to ensure that we maximise local production. We should do all that is practically possible to enhance local production by supporting farming activities of professional farmers. Where we do not have the necessary farming expertise such should be drawn from outside by continuing to entice investors in this sector. Experienced farmers must be drawn to the country to help boost production while at the same time teaching local farmers best production methods. Most importantly, the Government should boldly invest in new farming technologies that will ensure that even without heavy rains there will be produce from the farms.
As it is, Government has had to bail out professional farmers who could not service their loans due to last year’s drought. Government will be expected to do the same again this year and will most likely pay 100% instead the 85% it paid last year. The biggest lesson from this is that we need to domesticate all solutions to our farming activities. Government should - instead of paying heavily for these elite farmers - dig boreholes for them and demand that they produce crops all seasons round.