The persisting drought has left arable farmers especially those in the southern parts of the country confused whether to plough or not. By Friday commercial farmers of Mosisedi Farms in Mosi had not yet started ploughing due to lack of rain. While still counting loses from the last ploughing season farmers are still confused whether to plough or not looking at the drought conditions. The chairperson of Mosisedi Commercial Farmers Association Quett Rabai said the last season was a very bad year for them as their crops failed because of dry and hot conditions. Rabai said that at the moment nothing is done at the 10,000 hectare fields of Mosisedi Farms. He explained that this is because there have been no rains. In normal years ploughing start late October but this season just like the previous one, rains came late and farmers had been reluctant to plough following the previous experience.
“The farmers are still to recover from loses they incurred the previous year and with no rains this season they have not started ploughing,” said Rabai. However, the recent rains that the country experienced have brought hope to some who will be starting to plough on Monday. When giving out the seasonal rainfall forecast for January to March 2016, the Director of Metrological Services Thabang Botshoma said the recent rains have the potential of heightening the hopes of farmers while in actual fact it will be a dry season. According to the forecast given even though the rains are expected over the weekend, deficit in rainfall is expected over the remainder of the rain season. Botshoma said this is due to the persistent strong El Nino conditions. He said it is likely that Botswana would continue to experience consistently dry and hot conditions toward the late-summer season from January to March.
“Strong El Nino conditions are still present and the models predict that they have peaked and will only subdue in May. As a result the consistently dry and hot conditions for the remaining rainfall season may worsen the current drought conditions the country is already experiencing,” he said. However, he explained that this does not mean there will be no rain completely. The seasonal rainfall outlook indicates that the northern parts will receive largely normal to above-normal rains. Places in the southwest and north-eastern parts of the country however are expected to get normal with a tendency of below-normal rains. The southern eastern parts of Botswana are expected to receive below-normal to normal rains. Climate change that has resulted in unreliable rainfalls in Botswana has kept farmers worried, especially commercial farmers who plant in large scale fields. Even though Rabai said he will be starting to plough on Monday he is still sceptical of how many hectares to plough. “If one ploughs a lot of hectares he is prone to lose more should the crops fail,” he said. With the devastating climate change conditions, the Minister of Agriculture Patrick Ralotsia has urged farmers to engage on climate change friendly ways of ploughing. Ralotsia called on the farmers to use modern technology to acclimatise to the conditions for improved production.
Rabai said he is aware of this and is looking at turning to zero-tillage method of ploughing. He said with the zero-tillage moisture is conserved compared to the traditional way where moisture is exposed to the scorching heat. However, he said that this is going to be expensive for them as they will have to get new equipment designed for this. “It will mean we will have to buy new equipment and do away with the present ones which will be expensive for us as we are still recovering from losses of the previous year. We also already have got loans to pay,’ he said. As faith is what keeps the farmers going, though it seems like a toll order Rabai hinted that they are also having prospects of turning to irrigation farming at Mosisedi Farmer in future. He said currently they are in negotiations with government to bring developments to the area. “Negotiations are on-going and the budget has already been approved for the electrification of Mosisedi,” he said. As irrigation farming requires water Rabai said after the electrification then they will be engaging government to help them bring water to the farms. Next on the line will be the road network. Raba said infrastructure is most important for them to start producing better yields and improve the country’s food situation.
Farmers in the Ngamiland region are battling to survive as El Niño effects rage on destroying both crops and livestock in the region. North West District agriculture office Clifford Molefe painted a gloomy picture about the state of agriculture in the region. So bad is the situation that some farmers, Molefe said, have given up on ploughing their fields as it has become apparent that they would not reap much from tilling soil in the scorching heat. “Some farmers are prepared to soldier on while others are at the point of losing hope due to persistent crop failures attributed to drought conditions” said Molefe. According to Molefe, a drop in area ploughed/ planted is anticipated this season compared to previous seasons due to; low soil moisture, high temperatures, wilting of emerging crops due to heat stress.“So far only 137 hectares have been ploughed in the Ngamiland East and West, but field measuring is yet to be done at Okavango sub district,” he said. This, it would appear, are the results of poor rainfalls experienced in the region.
Although under normal circumstances the region receives about 500 mm of rainfall on average only about 233mm of rainfall was received in the District as from October 2015 to date and was poorly distributed. The lack of rain has obviously affected crop production in the whole region. While some crops have totally given up to the harsh climatic condition, some crops such as legumes and to a lesser extent, millet have according to the District Agriculture office managed to withstand the harsh conditions. The dry spell has also hit hard at all the livestock species, according to the District Agriculture Office. Ngamiland is home to some of Botswana’s biggest cattle barons, and as if it is not enough that they had recently fell victim to Foot and Mouths disease outbreaks, their cattle are now dying due to lack of rain and grazing areas. “Those that are alive have to travel long distances to find grazing, this leads to the poor body conditions that the cattle are in currently as we speak,” he said.
The Ministry of Agriculture has as a way of redressing the situation resolved to issuing movement permits for farmers who want to move their livestock to areas with better grazing pastures. Areas most affected include Semboyo, Makakung, Makalamabedi, Chanoga, Hainaveld Ranches Lake Ngami (Toteng, Sehithwa, Bothatogo, Bodibeng), Nokaneng, Habu, East of Kareng, Boseja and Komana. Mortality is not high in the small stock populations.
Cattle dying like bees
Though the department acknowledged that they do not have absolute numbers, they stated that mortality is very high cattle. “We have a number collected during the third leg of FMD vaccination campaign in November/December 2015, which is 1249. I can assure you the actual number is way much bigger than that as this was given by farmers according to carcasses that they could see but not those that they have not seen,” said Molefe. The fact that cattle continue to die to date is, according to Molefe, testimony that they are not dying due to some disease outbreak but that the drought is to blame. The Ministry has so far moved to subsidise vet requisites and feed prices as a way of cushioning farmers from spending more in order to sustain their farms