P250m agriculture project failing

SHARE   |   Monday, 15 August 2016   |   By Ditiro Motlhabane
P250m agriculture project failing

Project implementation, which has eluded government departments for time immemorial, has reared its ugly head at the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) where millions of public funds will be lost due to failure to deliver the Agricultural Services Support Projects on time. The five-year multi-million pula Agricultural Services Support Project (ASSP) established in 2012 to support smallholder agricultural production, is doomed for failure with only seven months left before completion, The Patriot on Sunday has learnt. Currently most of the components of the project are running behind schedule, four years after ASSP was rolled out. The project budget for the entire five year period is USD 25,022 million (P250m), which comprises of a loan, a grant and contribution from government of Botswana.

The budget for the final year of the project, ending on 30th March 2017, is P56 million. International Fund for Agriculture and Development (IFAD) is the international partner in ASSP and play both an advisory role and provision of funding to the project. At the current rate ASSP is set to fail on its primary goal of "contributing towards economic diversification, reduction of rural poverty, food security and improved livelihoods of rural communities". The projects has been facing challenges due to slow technologies adoption rate, limited resources to roll out the ASSP activities fully at district level and high staff turnover. ASSP currently has 10 staff members. 

ASSP Project Manager, Orman Roy, has had to defend his unit against criticism that it is a duplication of the already existing Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD).  "ASSP is not a duplication of ISPAAD, but rather a complementing project as it provides services and support to all ISPAAD beneficiaries. The project has engaged, sensitised and facilitated training for both farmers and extension officers with the view to capacitate them on various disciplines to enhance and improve agricultural production in the country. The ultimate ASSP objective is to bring about a mindset change on a viable and sustainable smallholder agricultural sector based on farming as a business and not reliant on subsidies," he says. ASSP is designed to enhance the productivity of rain fed agriculture through refocusing ISPAAD to become a more effective instrument of rural poverty reduction.

The target for sustainable agricultural production was to increase cereal yields from 0.25t/ha to 1t/ha using recommended amounts of fertilizer, machinery, herbicides, and minimum/zero tillage. The three components of ASSP are improved rainfed agricultural practices supported by agricultural service centres (ASCs), agricultural mechanisation and a pilot scheme for wastewater irrigation. The budget for the three components is based on planned activities in a year, and therefore varies annually. The three sub-components were allocated a budget of P21, 527 866 at inception and only P5, 607,213 has so far been spent on the three sub components. A tender for the development of a wastewater irrigation scheme have just been awarded, and is expected to be completed at P7.5 Million which will be deducted from the balance.

Improved Rainfed Agricultural Practices

ASSP was tasked with the design, construction, equipping and effective operation of Agricultural Service Centres (ASCs) in different parts of the country to "achieve a viable and sustainable smallholder agricultural sector based on farming as a business and not reliant on subsidies or welfare measures".  Roy says farmers and extension officers have been trained on various improved rainfed agricultural practices, including Conservation Agriculture, tractor operations, weed and pest management and planter calibration. Sources said out of a total 15 ASCs budgeted for only three (3) have been constructed at a cost of P10 million each since the project started in 2012. ASCs were designed to focus on provision of farm inputs, information, training/extension services, financial services and market linkages. The centres would also be responsible for finance creation and support for cluster management committees to facilitate the provision of mechanisation and other services to smallholders. ASCs were to be entry point for farmer training, participatory common property resource management, enhancing community resilience to climate change and variability and addressing social development issues. According to Roy the total estimated cost for all the service centres once completed is P150 million.Roy concedes the delays in the project. He says construction of the three ASCs took long to complete due to disagreements between the contractors and the Department of Building and Electrical Services (DBES) regarding supervision and quality of works. "Largely contractors have been too slow to complete these projects and with limited budget ceiling we could not proceed with more service centres while others were showing no sign of being completed on time," he says.

Only Jwaneng Service Centre, which cost P9.5 million, has been completed and is fully operational. The contractors are 24 Seven Construction, Electric Peter Investments and Air Technology Services for mechanical. The Tonota Service Centre, which cost P8 million, is complete and yet to operate as the process is ongoing to identify an investor to operationalise it. Contractors for Tonota Service Centre are Tswaipe Building Construction, Palatimes Holdings for electrical and Air Technology services it. Parakarungu Service Centre, currently at P3 Million, is not yet complete due to a small snag. Contractors are Aggre Holdings for construction, Tibach (Pty) Ltd for mechanical and NKMS Holdings for electrical. "The Jwaneng and Parakarungu service centres have been awarded to Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB). The upcoming service centres will be leased to interested private investors through invitation to tenders. There are nine service centres that are yet to be designed and constructed, while three will be constructed soon as the tenders are on final stages of evaluation. Completion date for the construction of the remaining service centres is not yet known as it will depend on availability of funds to construct them. The intention is to build 3 to 5 per annum as from the next financial year," Roy explains.

Pilot Scheme for Wastewater Irrigation

Questions have been raised about the construction of a Wastewater Irrigation scheme which was to be piloted in Palapye under ASSP. The Patriot on Sunday has it on good authority that were it not for the intervention of International Fund for Agriculture and Development (IFAD), some senior government officials at MoA had already approved a quotation for P33 million submitted by a local contractor (names withheld) for the design of the irrigation project near Palapye. The international partner is said to have ordered cancellation of the tender because the charges were too high for a project, which they advised, is worth just around P8-10 million. Moreover, IFAD is said to have reminded MoA that they have in-house experts whom they can deploy to Botswana to advise the project management team on the irrigation project. Roy told The Patriot on Sunday during the week that the project has taken off as the tender has been awarded and construction is expected to last four months.

"The construction budget for Pilot Scheme for Wastewater Irrigation scheduled for Palapye has been awarded at P7.5 Million. The consultant engaged to design the project is Stevenson Associates and the cost for the design and supervision is P1.4 million and has so far used P822000.00, the remaining balance will be used in the supervision works," says Roy, denying that there has been any disagreement over the cost of the irrigation scheme. Roy explains that the pilot scheme has been designed, plot awarded by landboard, fenced and destumped. Power connection and water has been paid for already, and the tender on the construction has just been awarded and construction will resume shortly, he said, adding that project beneficiaries have already been identified.
Agricultural mechanization

ASSP was tasked with formulation of a comprehensive agricultural mechanization strategy with attention to the role of private sector. To be considered was the leasing or sale of Government farm machinery to private machinery contractors. A pilot scheme would also be undertaken for rebuilding of existing old and non-operating tractors, in addition to the establishment of a training scheme for private machinery contractors. ASSP would also help with provision of consultancy services to assist contractors to prepare business plans and financing proposals to financial institutions. ASSP would also provide assistance to contractors to develop machinery contracting into a business such as haulage of produce during harvest, road maintenance, haulage of building materials, roadside grass cutting. Since ASSP started, five benchmarking trips have been undertaken by the project management team to South Africa, Zambia and Ghana. Roy says numerous equipment including rippers and boom sprayers have been purchased at a cost of approximately P1 Million, and distributed to districts.

"A total of 20 rippers and 10 boom sprayers have been bought for use in up scaling Conservation Agriculture. A total of 9 vehicles have been bought while 10 were refurbished from the existing fleet. Training for the extension officers on various disciplines have been conducted through ASSP budgets in the previous years and more are still to be conducted," he says. Demonstrations of improved implements to reduce operating costs and improve the quality of mechanization services, and training on Conservation Agriculture have also been conducted in different parts of the country. From the 20 000 farmers targeted since project inception 9 000 farmers have been sensitized on ASSP activities from all over the country’s agricultural districts namely Chobe, Central, South East, Southern, Kgalagadi, Gantsi, North West, Kgatleng and North East. "This financial year we have targeted to conduct Conservation Agriculture demonstrations to 540 farmers. Training on this sub component is ongoing and more activities are expected during the ploughing and planting season," says Roy.

Conflict of interest
Insiders at MoA allege that some senior government officials have turned ASSP into a cash cow, awarding contracts to companies in which they have indirect or direct financial interest. This has been attributed to lack of supervision and in some cases blatant bullying and abuse of power where juniors are forced to process payments for contractors/ suppliers with connections to senior government officials in the ministry. "We are not aware of such allegations," said Roy.