Budget allocation to agric falls short

12th February 2018
REVIVE FARMING: Lambani Obuseng urge nation to support agriculture Source:The Midweek Sun

A Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) Agronomist, Lambani Obuseng says the P1.34 billion allocated to Agriculture in the 2018/19 National Budget is not enough to support the sector. Speaking at the First National Bank (FNB) Budget Review Seminar, a day after Minister Kenneth Matambo’s Budget Speech, Obuseng said the P1.34 billion, which represents only three percent of the budget allocation is worrisome as it falls way short, if the sector is to grow to another level. In his view, Botswana has veered off the resolutions of the 2003 Maputo African Union Summit that urged African countries to commit at least 10 percent of national budget allocations to support the Agriculture sector.

“This is the sector that contributed 40 percent to the GDP at independence, but now only two percent. What went wrong?” Obuseng quizzed. He acknowledged that although there have been several agricultural programmes geared towards supporting the sector; there is need to first do thorough research before any policy formulation. “We might be coming up with programmes that are not what the country needs,” he said.

Among the operational challenges that hamper local output and exacerbate the dwindling performance of the sector, Obuseng cited the low adoption of technologies by farmers, stating that currently farmers use the simplest traditional methods of farming despite the vigorous changes in technology over the years. Obuseng added that effects of climate change resulting in floods; low levels of rain can no longer be ignored. Another challenge that local farmers are faced with is poor infrastructure – roads and communication, especially in production areas. If not attended to these hurdles could further hamper the sector. Obuseng also identified; poor soil fertility, labour shortages, and low productivity that lead to high per unit production costs as some of the challenges impeding agriculture. He said Botswana needs to adopt and implement better ways of supporting the agriculture sector.

Among his recommendations is the adoption of precision agriculture that goes a long way in reducing waste using satellite maps, computers to match seeds and fertilisers. He also recommends the use of drones, which could aid with planning and strategy based on real time data gathering and processing. Drones can also be used to analyse soils, crop monitoring, crop spraying, and health assessments among other things. According to Obuseng, the use of drones in other jurisdictions has proved to increase efficiency by 85 percent. In response to the budget allocation, General Manager of Clover Botswana, Mike Joyner said it is disappointing to realise that even though the SADC Integration Strategy identifies Agro processing as a potential money-spinner in the region, there has not been much effort to support the sector. “I acknowledge that the private sector has a big role to play, but the three percent would not do much,” Joyner said, adding, “how much engagement is made before the final budget allocation?”

His view is that financiers are often apprehensive to release funds in subsectors like dairy, which are high risk and daunting. “There are opportunities and the private sector is ready to work with government in ensuring that the sector performs well.” Business Development expert, Donald Maika of African Emerging Ventures said at the seminar that the biggest challenge is that farmers still shy away from pursuing agriculture as a business. He challenged the private sector to come up with supporting products that can revive and sustain the agriculture sector. “There are opportunities for the private sector to play a role in agriculture. We need to drive this sector through providing equity to agribusiness,” Maika said. He also believes that local investment companies need to do something to change the fortunes of the sector, which in turn could attract international investors.

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