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Reduced producer price threat to food security

Publishing Date : 13 November, 2017

Kesitegile Gobotswang (PhD)
BCP Deputy Leader

Agriculture remains the most sustainable sector to drive an economy to greater heights. Through its value chain agriculture generates more temporary and permanent jobs.  Industrialization remains a pipe dream if agriculture is not modernised to produce the required raw material. In order to accomplish this goal there is need to strategically invest heavily in agriculture. What we have witnessed so far is a disjointed government intervention that is unsustainable.  There is a huge mismatch between the budget allocated to agriculture and the output and contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

It is well documented that in Botswana the biggest constraint to arable farmers has always been discouraging producer prices from Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) which is a state owned enterprise. Purchasing food produce at better prices will go a long way in increasing production and eliminating tourist farmers attracted by free ploughing and planting offered through Integrated Support Program for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD).  A reduction of producer price would have far reaching consequences on food production, economic diversification, job creation and prosperity.

Just when we thought the era of erratic Presidential Directives were over government has just issued a shocking order entitled Presidential Directive CAB 32 (A) 2017. According to the directive BAMB is instructed to reduce producer prices for cowpeas by a staggering 43% from P700 to P400 per a 50kg bag in the 2017/2018 cropping season.  Simply put, government withdrew subsidies on the purchase of cowpeas.

As usual government so far failed to advance reasons for such a drastic decision that has the potential to affect the overall government policy on food security.  We are left with no option except to speculate. Part of the reason may be lack of a clear agricultural policy that could provide medium to long term program of action on how to attain medium to long term goals.

The last time Botswana had an agricultural policy was in 1991. At the time there was a clear distinction between food security and food self-sufficiency. Botswana deliberately adopted food security simply defined as having sufficient food at all times through domestic production as well as imports. On the other hand food self-sufficiency refers to meeting national cereal food requirement through domestic production. Under the current government the term food security and food self-sufficiency are used interchangeably.  This conceptual ambiguity translates into confused policy direction. This is what happens when politicians marginalizes the input of professionals in policy formulation.

The absence of an agricultural policy has led government to adopt agricultural programs on impulse. The abrupt termination of Arable Land Development Policy (ALDEP) is a case in point. This was replaced by a re-incarnated Accelerated Rain-fed Agricultural Program (ARAP), now renamed ISPAAD to make it appear like a new presidential initiative.

Any decision that is adopted should be aimed at the advancement of the overall national goal. If the overall objective is food security or food self-sufficiency any agricultural program should be consistent with an established policy framework. When ISPAAD was introduced the aim was to attain national food security. Some of the key motivation to farmers was free ploughing and planting mainly using tractor draught power. Improved producer price was another critical factor in enhancing agricultural productivity.

Among the crops produced locally cow peas fetched the highest price at P700 per 50kg bag. In addition to free ploughing and planting covering 5 hectares the inclusion of subsidised producer price for cow peas proved to be double subsidization on the part of government which was not sustainable. Hence the withdrawal of subsidized producer price for cow peas to be implemented in the 2017/2018 cropping season. For producers of cow peas the move will be a demotivating factor. In the end the decision is likely to have a negative impact on food security.

 On a related matter government has decided to terminate the services of private distributers of seeds to ISPAAD beneficiaries. During the 2017/2018 ploughing season seeds distribution will be the responsibility of Agricultural Demonstrators (ADs) instead of private distributers. It is unclear how this is going to happen given chronic shortage of transport and storage facilities. In areas where there are no ADs there will be serious challenges. The new arrangement has already begun impacting on the 2017/2018 ploughing season in a negative way.  

It is worth reminding the reader that part of the reason why ARAP was terminated had to do with the impact it had on extension service. Following a comprehensive evaluation of the program it was discovered that the services given by Agricultural Demonstrators to farmers had virtually collapsed as they shifted to doing clerical work. The decision to burden agricultural extension service with distribution of seeds is regressive.

Transforming agricultural extension workers into supplies officers is a sure way of destroying a service enjoyed by poor farmers. Privatization of extension service appears to be a growing trend, a move that will disadvantage peasant farmers since they will not afford it. The veterinary extension services are at an advanced state of privatization.  

Shifting seeds distribution to extension service officers is likely to affect both the distribution of agricultural inputs as well as extension service.  Already the 2017/2018 ploughing has long started. Some areas of the country have already received the first rains. A few arable farmers have already started working on their land yet the distribution of seeds has not begun. Someone is sleeping on the job.

One of the major shortcomings of planning processes under the current administration is failure to incorporate monitoring and evaluation (M&E) as well as overlooking evidence based practice. The result is that introduction of new programs are based on the feelings of the powers that be. M&E infusion into policy formulation allows investigators to evaluate existing programs based on the stated objectives. The key question that begs for a clear answer is why it was found necessary to subsidise producer prices to allow BAMB to purchase crop harvests at a good price in the first place and why government has now decided to withdraw the subsidy.  A proper evaluation would provide answers to these and other critical questions.



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