Bumper harvest in 2017?

SHARE   |   Monday, 29 August 2016   |   By Ditiro Motlhabane
Bumper harvest in 2017?

Huge losses suffered due to a debilitating drought and rising poverty in Southern Africa could be reversed in the next summer, if predictions of massive downpours in a few months are accurate. A Lead Researcher on Climate Change at Botswana Institute for Technology Research and Innovation (BITRI), Prof. Nnyaladzi Batisani, says the country is expected to receive above-normal rainfall early in summer, which will lead to a good crop season owing to La Nina phenomenon. Prof. Batisani said should weather forecasts remain on course, Batswana can expect agricultural production to bounce back by mid-2017. To ensure sustainability of agriculture and food security, as climate change creates increasing uncertainty over weather patterns, Prof Batisani urged farmers to explore new farming technologies and strategies, plant high yielding crop varieties and also to optimize application of inputs such as fertilizer to benefit from the expected good rains.

The Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) had not responded to questions about their preparations, in view of the forecast rainfall as the ploughing season draws near. Prof. N Batisani's prediction supports the position of the World Meteorological Organisation, which is confident that the unwelcome presence of a strong El Niño is poised towards a gradual decline during the second quarter of 2016 and may be replaced by a system that promises average to above average rainfall. It is fitting in an El Niño season to draw particular attention to the indispensable role of water in society in general and agriculture in particular. According to most authoritative references on resource economics, water represents one of the only natural limits to economic growth, and it is quite literally the life blood of primary food production.

A US$1 trillion industry

According to Africa Agribusiness Insights Survey 2016 by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which presents insights gained from agribusiness CEOs working in Africa, agribusiness in sub-Saharan Africa has substantial potential to grow in the next few years. Frans Weilbach – Agribusiness Industry Leader for PwC Africa, says agribusinesses have a critical role to play not only in future economic growth in Africa but also in global food security. The survey quotes the World Bank, which predicts that it may potentially become a US$1 trillion industry by 2030. Agri-related activities as a whole (including the wider agro-processing sector) already account for nearly half of the GDP in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA); yet the region houses about half of the world’s fertile but unused land, offering the opportunity to further support food security and lower food imports (Afro-business Expo, 2015). It is predicted that technological innovation will act as a catalyst in lifting agribusiness in Africa to the next level.

Discussing the topic "Sub-Saharan Africa – economic prospects, food security and water scarcity" Economic advisor to PwC Dr Roelof Botha says it is encouraging that Africa is slowly but surely narrowing the gap in economic prowess with advanced economies. In 2015, the combined GDP of the twelve largest economies in SSA amounted to almost $1.3 trillion (see Figure 4) – more than the combined GDP of Austria, Finland, Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Other SSA countries that produced in excess of $10 billion of output in 2015 are Mozambique, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Gabon, Botswana, South Sudan and Namibia. Dr Botha says an end to the serious drought in several southern African countries and a reversal of the five-year commodity cycle slump remain key to the SSA region’s growth outlook, whilst a constant need remains for improved public sector corporate governance and the expansion of basic infrastructure.

Over the past four years, a prolonged commodity price slump, structurally lower growth in China and a lethargic European economy have combined to lower the GDP growth trajectory in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Of late, the prospect of stricter monetary policy in the US has also served to subdue global growth prospects, although the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects global growth to rise marginally to 3.2% in 2016 (from an estimated 3.1% in 2015). The latest IMF global growth forecasts paint a gloomy picture for SSA in 2016, but a substantial recovery is expected next year (in contrast to countries in Asia, where economic growth is expected to remain high, but taper off slightly in 2017). The IMF expects real economic growth in SSA to return to the 5% level in 2018.

Raising smallholder productivity

In the quest for improving the productivity of agriculture, smallholders have been singled out as a top priority by both the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) and the EIU. Approximately one-third of the world’s population lives on an estimated 500 million small farms. In South Africa, the MGI estimates that between 10% and 13% of available agricultural land is farmed by smallholders and subsistence farmers, with 40% of the farm sizes ranging between 5ha and 20ha. In terms of studies by the MGI and the EIU and research conducted by the Dr Botha, the following specific policy interventions would stimulate significantly higher productivity in a crucially important segment of the agriculture sector. Key interventions that could collectively change the face of small-scale agriculture in SSA include switching to crops with a higher value, e.g. berries, tomatoes, eggs, avocado and tree nuts; Improving soil management techniques; using seed varietals that are more drought and fungal resistant; facilitating enhanced access to financial support for working capital; Processing beyond primary production, ideally through a co-operative venture that pools resources; Facilitating access to new technologies in farming, including the optimisation of water usage and management techniques.

"A standard caveat in the implementation of these policies is the issue of training, mentorship and monitoring – an area where public-private partnerships could play a pivotal role. From the public sector’s side, an accommodating and flexible policy framework is required, supplemented by subsidised loans for farmers that have sound business plans and have conducted appropriate feasibility studies for securing access to markets. Furthermore, public sector agencies should provide incentives for private sector participation, especially in the field of training. Private firms could also play an important role in the areas of marketing and agro-processing," Dr Botha recommends.

Climate change and resource scarcity

Although there is widespread consensus on the reality of global climate change, much uncertainty still exists when it comes to the exact measurable impact of changes in climatic conditions on agriculture and food security. This, however, makes it all the more critical for the agriculture sector to take climate change seriously. According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation), over the next 50 to 100 years there is likely to be a decline in the productivity of cropland, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, the average crop yield for sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at a mere 25%, compared to 90% for East Asia.

If sub-Saharan Africa can increase its yield to at least 50%, it will be able not only to feed itself, but to become a net food exporter in the process (Suttie, DR and Benfica, RMS, 2015, Srivathsan, 2015). Agricultural activities can perpetuate climate change due to the resulting emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs). However, there is a growing focus on agriculture’s positive contribution to mitigating climate change through carbon sequestration and, for instance, the substitution of biofuels for fossil fuels. These contributions will hopefully increase in the future, with a stronger focus on mitigating strategies in the developing world. 76.5% of respondents indicated that their businesses are subject to external reviews that include sustainability issues such as energy consumption, water consumption, chemical usage, and health and safety.

Drought in Botswana
In Botswana, the president declared 2015/16 a drought year, following a Drought Assessment Tour Exercise conducted in February and May 2016. Recognising that a significant number of rural households remain vulnerable, a number of relief and special assistance measures were announced effective from the 1st July, 2016 until 30 June, 2017. The MoA provides a 25% livestock feed subsidy through the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB). The Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) has invoked the Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme (ACGS), to provide assistance to farmers who secured their loans from the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) and the National Development Bank (NDB).

Encouraged by the positive results since the introduction of government assistance programmes – under the Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD) – the MoA is confident that initiatives geared towards improving production will bear fruit. The ministry, in partnership with International Fund for Agriculture and Development (IFAD), established the Agricultural Services Support Project (ASSP) in 2012 to support smallholder agricultural production. 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 project budget for the entire five year period is USD 25,022 million.

Drought ravages SADC

The SADC region is currently experiencing the worst drought conditions in over two decades, according to the latest climate data, which is predicted to result in a decline in local food production, accompanied by a continued rise in food prices. Consequently, the SADC region is experiencing significant decreases in cereal outputs with growing levels of food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition. The 2015 cereal production decreased by approximately 21% compared to 2014. Crop production during the 2014/15 rainfall season was especially affected by prolonged dry spells in Botswana, Lesotho, and Namibia, which also extended to the maize belt of South Africa, southern Angola and southern Zimbabwe. At the same time, Madagascar, Malawi and Mozambique were affected by both floods and prolonged dry spells.

According to SADC Regional Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis Synthesis Reports, 40% of all SADC citizens are currently living in abject poverty. Outgoing SADC chairman President Ian Khama told a special seminar on food security and poverty last month that combating regional food insecurity and poverty in all of its forms and complexity requires an array of multifaceted actions, key among those being that the political and policy environments need to be conducive, especially in the case of agriculture. Khama called for the implementation of short to medium-term interventions under the Regional Agricultural Policy (RAP) to cushion and assist people cope with the immediate impact of climate change. Although the RAP was endorsed by SADC Council of Ministers in August 2014, the RAP Investment Plan is yet to be finalised. "In terms of food security, let us be mindful of the Food and Nutrition Strategy, as approved by the SADC Summit in 2013. I am sure you will all agree with me that these commendable milestones must now be further translated into actions that will positively impact on the lives of our people," said Khama.