Fallow land affcets food production-Ralotsia

SHARE   |   Sunday, 19 July 2015   |   By Othusitse Tlhobogang
Minister of Agriculture Patrick Ralotsia Minister of Agriculture Patrick Ralotsia PIC: RICARDO KANONO

• More than half of allocated land unused

The Minister of Agriculture, Patrick Ralotsia, remains confident that the country can still do better to produce enough food despite repeated bouts of drought, which compromise crop production.
Ralotsia said he believes that using climate smart agriculture and ploughing more land can rescue the situation for Batswana. Addressing the media on Wednesday he expressed concerns over the amount of land allocated for agricultural production that still remains undeveloped. Statistics show that the total land allocated for arable agriculture amounts to 945 000 hectares and only less than half of it is ploughed every year.During the 2013/2014 ploughing season only 417 000 ha of land was ploughed.
Ralotsia said should more farmers start ploughing and planting their fields the country can produce enough to improve food security. He said his ministry’s mandate is to make sure that Batswana have food and this cannot be possible if land is not utilised. “There is too much land, enough to produce food for this nation. We just need to start using this land for its purpose. I do not even think there is need to allocate more land especially for arable agriculture,” said Ralotsia.
A farmer in Mmankgodi,  Mmamotse Mogapi ,said the situation where a lot of people may not be ploughing their fields could be escalated by the shortage of machinery. She said shortage of tractors is a major problem. “Tractors are not enough, people have to wait to long for their turn and in the meantime the moisture evaporates. Some end up discouraged and not ploughing,” said Mogapi. The passionate farmer pointed out that poor climate is also a challenge, saying that the rains are low and unreliable making it difficult for farmers. 
Despite all this, statistics have however shown that over the years there has been an increase in ploughed land across the country. The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Dr Micus Chimbombi revealed that the increase has been seen since 2008 when Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD) was introduced but is not enough.  According to Chimbombi the amount of land ploughed since 2008 to date has gone from 100 000 ha to 417 000 ha in 2014. The 2014 ploughing season recorded the highest number of farmers who ploughed and planted with the number going beyond 127 000. However the ploughed hectares fall way below the available land and Chimbombi said there is still more room for improvement to produce enough food to feed Batswana. “If we produce more food in a certain year, the food will be able to carry us through other years of hardship”, said Chimbombi.
Since the 2014/2015 ploughing season has been affected by the climate change and low production is expected, there are concerns that the country may experience shortage of food. This year has been declared a drought year and people are now fearful that there will be low harvests leading to shortage of food.
However, Chimbombi said the production from last season will keep the country going. Last season the country had a promising harvest with more than 220 000 metric tonnes from which more than 125 000 metric tonnes were cereals. This was an improvement from the previous year when only a total production of 64,980 metric tonnes was recorded with 33,775 metric tonnes being cereals.
Ralotsia said 17 000 metric tonnes of harvest is kept as strategic grain reserves at Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) to be used in times of shortage. “This amount has to be there all the time to be used in difficult times of grain shortage in the country,” he said, adding that currently BAMB storages have around 54 000 metric tonnes of reserves. The Minister said as a result even though Botswana may need to import some food it will not be too much as the situation is under control.

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