Food import bill for 2018 expected to rise significantly
Botswana could this year record a significant decline in production of staple food including sorghum, millet, maize and cowpeas due to delayed rainfalls and dry spells, a development which could compel the country to import more food from neighbouring countries and international market.
In an interview with The Botswana Gazette last week a commercial farmer based at the state-owned Pandamatenga farms in the Northern part of the country, Tienie Kruger stated that while there are no statistics estimating the amount of projected decline in cereal yields in 2018, Botswana is expected to this year record low production of cereal as trends indicate that big commercial farmers who produce majority of cereal crops consumed in the country have decided not to plant. “It is too late to plant because the first rain which normally comes in October came during the first week of February this year. We never had rain during the whole season. The first rain came during the first week of February and it’s too late to plant. Farmers who will plant are highly likely to produce low yields due to dry spells,” said the farmer.
Kruger stated that while there are no figures yet on the number of arable farmers who have decided not to plant due to the harsh weather, trends show that a significant number of commercial farmers in the country are demoralized to plough their fields due to delayed rainfall, dry and hot weather conditions which are destroying crops. Commercial farmers from Pandamatenga farms account for 90 percent of total production, according to recent figures from the Ministry of Agriculture.
In a recent statement, the Ministry of Agriculture noted that Botswana has experienced erratic rainfall, prolonged dry spells and high temperatures for the first part of the 2017/2018 ploughing season. The ministry indicated that the 6 months ploughing season which starts in October and ending March year is already running out of time, while recent observations show that majority of arable farmers in the country have not planted as a result of weather conditions which are not supportive to agricultural activities. The ministry advised farmers who decide to plant to use drought tolerant and early maturing varieties of crops. “Farmers are advised to plant more sorghum than maize since sorghum is more drought tolerant. Maize should be minimized as it is a heavy feeder and does not stand high temperatures,” reads the statement in part.
The Department of Meteorology has indicated that delayed rainfall and dry spells which are negatively affecting agricultural activities, farming and food production in the country mainly occur due to shortage of moisture in the atmosphere. The department explained that dry spells are associated with shifts in the location of the tropical-temperate-trough (TTT) systems that are the dominant rain-producing systems over much of southern Africa.