- The war in Ukraine and COVID-19 cited as key factors
- Import ban to blame for shortage of vegetables
Botswana is currently enduring the worst time ever as basic goods prices skyrocket in the midst of soaring fuel prices influenced by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Elevated food prices are also exacerbated by the fact that Batswana does not produce enough food for its own consumption. Particularly hitting is an imposed vegetable import ban which saw prices for a wide range of vegetables go up. Although initially a noble idea that aimed to encourage local production, the ban is creating disruptions in the market triggering debate about the readiness of farmers before the import ban was imposed.
The Business Weekly & Review sent a questionnaire to the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security where Chief Public Relations Officer, Moreri Moesi, said the food price inflation was also caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted that agriculture currently contributes 2.11 percent to the GDP and spoke of government interventions that seek to address this issue. “Programmes such as ISPAAD, LIMID and IAS are available to stimulate production and this is expected to increase the sector’s contribution to the GDP,” he noted.
“Furthermore, the ministry – in collaboration with investment promotion agencies such as BITC, SEZA and Business Botswana – continues to attract investors into the sector. Financial Institutions have introduced economic stimulus packages to enhance investment in agriculture. Government has also introduced the ERTP to create a conducive environment for agricultural investment.”
Moesi said the government “often introduces import restrictions whenever there is a bumper harvest to ensure that local produce is absorbed”. He sought to assure Batswana that in the case of a resurgence in coronavirus cases that may necessitate travel restrictions, the country will not run out of basic food items because “due to Botswana’s strong bilateral relations with other countries, we do not anticipate stoppage of food supplies because of COVID-19”.
In early March, the Bolux Group announced price increments for some of its products. A letter signed by the company’s Sales and Marketing Director, Innocent Chironda, stated that the Ukraine-Russia war “has resulted in global commodities markets being highly volatile (because) Ukraine and Russia combined contribute 33 percent of global wheat exports and between 20 and 25 percent of maize exports”.
The letter added that the world is in a global crisis last seen in the 2008 financial crisis. “SAFEX prices have been on the rise since January, but since the (Russian) invasion (of Ukraine) maize prices have increased by 12 percent and wheat prices by 18 percent”. Bolux announced it revised prices, which took effect from 4 April, as going up by 17 percent for maize, 5 percent for instant porridge, 12.5 percent for Chobe Special Maize Meal, Chobe Maize Rice and Chobe Samp, 16 percent for wheat, 7 percent for pasta, 10 percent for bread flour and 5 percent for confectionary. The company warned customers of a likelihood of monthly price increases.
Meanwhile, responding to a question in Parliament recently, the Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security, Karabo Gare, said through a revised ISPAAD that will be launched in July this year, the government will encourage farmers to achieve more yields.
To add to the woes of food insecurity, a newly released report by the Committee on Agriculture, Lands and Housing has noted how the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed Botswana’s vulnerability to food security issues. “Botswana needs to review its strategies holistically and depart from the input-based approach to output focused development of the agriculture sector,” says the report that was recently presented to Parliament by the Chairman of the committee, the MP for Jwaneng-Mabutsane, Mephato Reatile. “There is also a need to profile and categorise farmers and their needs while also acknowledging that not everybody can be a producer and therefore targeted interventions can then be developed.”
The report recommended a production-based incentive system for raising farm productivity and incomes. Other recommendations are that the country should abolish institutional structures which hinder production level choices and incentives, provide farmers in different categories with access to financial resources, agricultural inputs and sustainable land and labour productivity levels, devise measures to deal with chemical and fertiliser use and ecologically-sound pest control methods, and provide for farmers’ electricity and water connections, machinery, hired labour, as well as marketing and post-harvest technical assistance, among others. a cluster development strategy was emphasised.
The report said Botswana needs to actively and urgently expand domestic supply of maize from current levels of around 20,000 metric tonnes per annum to about 250,000 metric tonnes per annum. This increased level of local production will allow Botswana to meet current national maize requirements, allowing for possible forms of post-harvest maize losses. it notes that such a scenario would make Botswana self-sufficient in maize and less vulnerable to external grain market shocks.
Agricultural economists have previously advised designating portions of some productive areas (e.g. Northern and Southern Botswana) as maize economic zones in which special designate farms are developed, technologically-equipped and contracted by BAMB to produce maize at attractive and profitable producer prices per tonne or 50kg bag of maize and other crops.