Agriculture has been earmarked by the government for support and development in a bid to diversify the countrys economy. Whilst it is a fact as old as the hills that Botswana is a net food importer, there is plenty of room for reduction of the food import bill through domestic production of basic foodstuffs, especially cereals. It is encouraging to note that the country is taking the right direction, according to the recently published “Annual Agriculture Survey Report” by Statistics Botswana.
According to the report, there has been a general increase in crop production in the past five years. Crop yields during the period under review increased substantially for major cereals like maize, sorghum, millet and beans. The most recent Country Brief for Botswana by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) forecasted cereal production in 2021 to rise to 66 000 tonnes, which is 40 percent above the five-year average. This has been attributed to increased yields per hectare and increased area planted as more farm owners opted to increase land under cultivation. On the other hand, the report asserts that Botswana is a net importer of cereals with more than 90 percent of the domestic requirements being imported. Cereal imports have been increasing year-on-year and were expected to reach 465 000 tonnes in the 2020/21 marketing year (April/March).
Maize is the predominant crop, and though the yield fluctuated substantially through the years, it had been on an upward trend from 4 tonnes in 2015 to 15 tonnes in 2020. Even though maize is more susceptible to drought conditions, farmers prefer it because it is not vulnerable to quelea birds and it can be harvested as green mealies for home consumption and/or sales. The notable increase in maize production is also ascribed to good rains received in the 2016/17 cropping seasons. The yield per hectare harvested for maize increased from 106kg/ha in 2015 to 272kg/ha in 2017 compared to sorghums 243kg/ha and 362kg/ha in the same years respectively.
Maize imports normally account for the largest share of imports and of the projected 465 000 tonnes of cereal imports. A whopping 290 000 tonnes is estimated for maize at 230 000 tonnes of white maize for consumption and 60 000 tonnes of yellow maize largely for livestock feed. The large maize imports are resultant from the countrys drive to secure supplies and build up stocks amid concerns of the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The FAO report also highlights that the generally conducive rains that were received between November 2020 and early March 2021 will result in a further increase in all crop yields this year. However, cereal import requirements will remain above average in the 2021/22 marketing year but steadily decline on a yearly basis due to the increased local yields from the 2020/2021 season and a high level of carryover stocks.
Nevertheless, the prevalence of food insecurity has remained unchanged despite the increased agricultural output because of the adverse impact of COVID-19 on the economy that led to reductions in household incomes and consequently access to food. An estimated 38 000 people were still food-insecure in the April 2020 to March 2021 period, according to the FAO report. As the country finds its way out of the pandemic-related economic recession, its crop production needs to improve significantly for a meaningful contribution to national food security.
This article was prepared by Data Collection & Analysis (DCA), a business research and surveys firm. Feedback or inquiries can be relayed to 76 740 658 / email@example.com.