Farmers in some parts of the country are said to have asked government to either extend the ploughing season or allow them to use the broadcasting method to enjoy government assistance as the January deadline for ploughing draws near.
The broadcasting method is prohibited under the Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD), which was introduced in 2008 to address challenges facing arable farmers. Through ISPAAD farmers are assisted with free or subsidised seeds and fertilisers according to their categories. It was envisaged that the performance of the arable subsector would be greatly improved by fencing fields, establishing agricultural service centres as well as assisting arable farmers to acquire requisite inputs and draught power to undertake tillage operations.
The 2014/15 ploughing season began in earnest in different places late last year as farmers started taking advantage of the first rains. Though the rains were concentrated in the north, arable farmers throughout the country took to the ploughing fields to make use of the moisture before it dries up. With climate change bringing challenges to the ploughing season the Minister of Agriculture Christian De Graaff has urged farmers to always take advantage of the early rains and begin ploughing their fields before the moisture is lost. De Graaff also encouraged farmers to plant early maturing seeds that will beat the dry season and produce food quickly. The minister pledged government’s continued support to local farmers through the ISPAAD, pointing out that ever since the assistance programme was introduced food production in Botswana has improved drastically.
The ministry of Agriculture has set the deadlines for ploughing season on January 31 for southern parts and February 15 for northern parts of the country. The complaints about shortage of ploughing implements, seeds and fertilisers are not new. Even in the past ploughing season farmers made the same complaints. Some were even unsure if they will go ahead with ploughing. At the start of the 2014/15 ploughing season De Graaff pointed out that a total of 4 481 tonnes of fertilisers and 853.31 tonnes of seed have been dispatched to districts for distribution to farmers. “I am happy to inform you that Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) has completed distribution of fertilisers as at mid-November and seeds as at 5th December 2014. BAMB also has seeds and fertilisers for commercial purposes,” said De Graaff. He added that as a way of improving efficiency and service delivery, the ministry has decided to issue farmers with coupons to enable them source fertilisers, seeds and herbicides from selected suppliers. With this the minister believes that the problem of shortage will be a thing of the past in the current season.
However in some areas like Kweneng farmers are complaining about the shortage of tractors which delay their ploughing. The farmers say there are only a few tractors available for ploughing compared to the number of people who want to plough. “This situation is problematic to us since we have to wait in a queue for our turn,” said Johannes Moabi, a farmer in Gakgatla lands. The farmer pointed out that while some are awaiting their turn for tractors the moisture in the meantime evaporates. He said “the sun is too strong and if we wait a long time then by the time we plough it will be dry and seeds will not geminate”.
Another farmer, Mmamotse Mogapi, shares the same sentiments with Moabi. She said the issue of tractors is worse in their area. Mogapi said in the Mmankgodi region in the past season there was only one tractor ploughing for all the farmers and they wasted a lot of time waiting for it to reach them. She urged government to source more tractors since the private tractor owners are not reliable. The issue of tractor shortage is not a new one as it always pops up every ploughing season. Last season farmers in most areas of the country including Good Hope, Mmankgodi and Tlokweng also raised it. The ministry of Agriculture had also in the past admitted that indeed they have a shortage in their fleet of tractors. In 2013 the ministry revealed that they had only 60 tractors countrywide, a number which is very low looking at the number of farmers who turn up for ploughing and planting.
A farmer in Mmamarobole lands east of Molepolole, Tshenolo Ramerafhe-who owns two tractors with disc ploughs, a dicer and two planters, says he has been ploughing for people in fields around Molepolole village in Mosinki, Kobokwe and Mogonono lands since the rains started in Nobember 2014. He said besides the fields being too small, which is not good for business, they have had major challenges as their machinery frequently broke down as the area is rocky. He said they had to replace bearings for planters, fix punctures for tractors and blades for their ploughs damaged by the rocks without any assistance from government.
In mid-December 2014 Ramerafhe decided to explore other opportunities and deployed his tractors in Kweneng west. He has never regretted the decision. The demand for ploughing implements in the area is so high that he does not think they will manage to help all in their waiting list before the January 31st deadline. "I am impressed with the size of the fields in this area. The ploughing fields here are well taken care of. We have never had any breakdowns or major maintenance on the plant (farm implements) we are using since we started working the sandy soils," he said from Kakane lands near the small village Monwane.
Although Ramerafhe has never sought assistance for fuel government, ISPAAD has a provision to assist tractor owners with fuel, repayable when claims are submitted. He said he is in the process of acquiring two bigger tractors to deploy in Kweneng west where the fields a spacious and well kept.
Old man Isang Mogabale who completed ploughing 10 hacters in Leowang lands on January 04 said he is relieved to have finally managed to cover the whole area for which he had acquired seeds through ISPAAD. However a stonesthrow from his field Maitumelo Kereng and Motsikwane Selabe find themselves in a predicament. They strain their ears at every sound of a passing automobile and brave the scotching heat of the Kgalagadi crisscrossing the area in search of tractors. In the meantime they have resorted to ploughing part of their fields using a span of donkeys. But it may be too little too late. "In recent years the rains have been coming too late. The ploughing season is too short if you are not using a tractor, but there are no tractors around. Even where they are available there is a shortage of planters or some other implements. Re tlaa dika re sa lema," Selabe sums up their misery.
According to statistics during the 2013/14 ploughing season a total of 127 000 farmers planted their fields. With this huge number of farmers it is clear that the ministry of Agriculture’s fleet is not enough to serve them all. An official in the ministry had however highlighted that they also rely on private tractor owners to help. The officer said the private owners are paid through ISPAAD for the work they do. With the improved ISPAAD rates the officer therefore urged Batswana to take the opportunity to buy tractors and make money by ploughing for others. Despite these setbacks the Minister of Agriculture remains hopeful that the harvest will continue to increase at the end of the ploughing season due to the good rains. De Graaff also said the improved ISPAAD rates to farmers are also helping to improve food production in the country. According to the Minster ever since the programme was introduced Botswana has seen an increase of more than 500% in food production.