DROUGHT: Harder on young farmers

Twenty eight year old Segomotso Basuti is a horticulture farmer in the Bobonong area; she has grown to become a supplier of supermarkets and chain stores in the Selibe Phikwe area and also gets business from schools andindividuals alike.
While she began her Youth Development Funded farm in 2012, four years later Basuti is seeing what any horticulture business can see in a worst case scenario.
The current drought season, which some farmers have considered one of the worst in history with its extended rainless periods and its ever soaring temperatures, has put young farmers like Basuti in a precarious and compromised situation.
“The drought has had a massive impact on the farm. We planted 2 hectares of watermelon by the end of August, which all didn’t make it because of the excessive heat and lack of rainfall,” she says. Basuti has been left to count her losses; she has since planted another batch at a small 1 hectare piece of land with hopes of harvest by the beginning of February. This will force her to reduce supply to her customers.
Basuti’s story cuts across the country. Many young farmers have been left high and dry by the drought, and are having to re-evaluate their business.
One such farmer is stud breeder Faheem Kala, 32, who owns and operates Bushra Kalahari Reds. He says the costs of doing business have shot up as he is increasingly having to buy more feed for his studs, “One is reliant on purchasing additional feeds and Lucerne for the animals and with the drought, feed and supplementation costs have also increased. This comes at a higher financial outlay and also requires more forward planning.” Kala underlined.
His reality is worsened by the fact that he is located on the outskirts of Notwane, just outside of Gaborone. This area is currently experiencing one of the longest dry spells with rain showers few and far between compared to the rest of the country. Kala says he is kept up at night by the fact that some of the boreholes in his area are running low and with added pressure from diminishing grazing, he has been forced to deploy stop gap measures to ensure his animals do not lose weight and possibly die from the tough conditions: “Drought feeding should be started well before the goats reach their critical live weight. The concept of critical live weight indicates the minimum live weight that will enable an animal to survive. Further weight loss may endanger the survival of the goats by leaving them too weak to walk, graze or safely obtain drinking water. At Bushra, we farm semi-intensively, but since the beginning of the final quarter of 2015, we began feeding our goats a bit more to maintain their condition so as not to affect production as the grazing conditions have steadily deteriorated,” he said.
For Nonny Wright, an ambitious 26 year old dairy farmer based just outside Maun, this is also the worst she has seen in her three years of farming, “Dairy cows are very sensitive animals, high temperatures easily irritate animals and cause heat stress that reduces milk production and also have difficult pregnancy,” she said. The young farmer has borne the brunt of heat waves that have impacted the area, with one of her animals last week endured an extended labour, forcing a C section operation to save both mother and calf. “We managed to save them both, while the calf is healthy, the mother is still down from her pains, it’s important that we get her up or we risk losing her,” said Wright with clear anguish in her voice.
She has now taken to changing tact in an effort to prepare for the long haul, “I’m working on improving housing for the animals providing enough shade, water points and coolants for my animals.”
While Kala, Basuti and Wright practise in different subsectors of agriculture, their efforts to ensure the country’s food security remain resolute. They all express optimism to see a better day, with hopes that the rains will fall in the near future.  They are all however facing the toughest period since they began their respective ventures, and it goes without saying that their inexperience is being put to the test by the by the El Nino induced drought.
Kala says while the situation is tough for young farmers, the country’s long history with drought should be learnt from, “we should not undermine the lessons and advise we can get from our elders and experienced farmers as well as feed specialists in the country, they have a lot of knowledge in dealing with long drought spells.”
Wright says as the situation continues to worsen, young farmers will need support from both the Ministries of Agriculture and Youth to ensure that many do not get discouraged. She hopes increased funding toward Agriculture will come with the Economic Stimulus Program (ESP) to give farmers a shot in the arm in efforts to increase food security in the country.
Basuti says that she is holding out for winter with the hope that cooler temperatures will assuage the problem. Her hope, she says, is that young farmers like her, funded through Government schemes, will be afforded repayment period extensions considering the inconvenience of the current dry spell which will make it even more expensive to farm, “We need frequent check-ups from the Youth office to evaluate those doing well and to understand challenges of those not performing.”
In efforts to help farmers stay afloat, the Ministry of Agriculture has introduced a 50 percent subsidy on selected feeds with more interventions expected going forward.