Botswana Experiencing ‘Drought Year’ as Heat Damages Crops

Botswana is experiencing “a drought year” after below-average rainfall that caused poor grazing conditions for farmers, said acting Agriculture Minister Patrick Ralotsia.

“This year is evolving to be a very bad one,” Ralotsia told reporters Tuesday in the capital, Gaborone. “In most parts of the country, crops are already showing signs of total failure due to stunted growth while others reached permanent wilting.”

The southern African nation’s primary crops are wheat, sorghum and corn, which is also known as maize. The area planted this crop season has declined 69 percent to 127,800 hectares (315,800 acres) from a year earlier while the number of farmers has dropped 78 percent to 28,000, Ralotsia said. The country’s president has the power to officially declare a drought, making state resources available to farmers, school children and the poor, among others.

“If it were by me, looking only at the agricultural sector, I would say this is a drought year,” Ralotsia said. “We have experienced below-average rainfall this season and as a result the grazing condition is not good and unfortunately it will deteriorate further as the season progresses. Cattle will lose condition or even die. I take this opportunity to urge farmers to destock.”

Recommendations Sought

Once drought-assessment teams conclude their countrywide tours, a report and recommendations will be forwarded to President Ian Khama, who then can decide on declaring a drought, Ralotsia said.

The declaration of a drought in July 2013 triggered a range of state-funded interventions costing a collective 217.5 million pula ($21 million).

The country had adequate grain reserves should supplies within the commercial sector fail, said Edison Wotho, chief executive officer of the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board.

“It’s not as bleak as it looks and we are also expecting good supplies from certain areas,” he said. “We have also been in touch with other countries about the maize situation and we are looking at Zambia and if we need to, that’s where we will go.”

Repeated heat waves, particularly in the south, have also reduced grazing land for cattle, which is Botswana’s premier livestock enterprise. Ralotsia said farmers should destock old cows, oxen and cows without calves immediately to avoid losses.

In its update for the January to March rainfall season, the Department of Meteorological Services had projected normal to below-normal rainfall for all parts of the country except the western districts.

— With assistance by John Viljoen

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