Farming in traditional sector still a part time job- survey shows

Despite efforts by government to turn around the fortunes of the agricultural sector, farmers in the traditional set up still do not take what they are doing as a business as they have other means of generating income. According to Statistics Botswana 2014 Annual Agricultural Survey, there are a wide range of economic activities that farmers engage in to supplement income from farming while the sector is still dominated by men. The survey also found out that the participation of youth is declining.

Maize plantation in Pitsane (Pic By BAMB)
Maize plantation in Pitsane (Pic By BAMB)

However, the agricultural survey carried out in 2014 covered only the traditional sector and excluded the commercial sector because of preparations for the 2015 Agricultural Census.

“There are a wide range of economic activities that farmers engage in to supplement income from farming. Out of a total of 28,011 farmers engaged in other economic activities in the 2014 agricultural season, the majority (28.4 percent) ran a trading store/shop/vendor followed by those selling traditional beer (15.2 percent),” Statistics Botswana said.

The 2014 survey results reveal that farmers do not only rely on the sale of crops and livestock for sustenance. It found out that the majority of farmers in the traditional sector relied on pension for income, followed by income from paid employment to supplement earnings from their farm produce. Pension is main source of income for many agricultural holdings because the majority of farmers are at the retired ages.

It also revealed shocking results as for food, farmers still depend heavily on purchased food as opposed to produce from their own farms or fields. However, dependence on purchased food decreased from 90.7% in 2013 to 79.0% in 2014.

The survey noted that the in the 2014 agricultural season, the number of active farmers increased by 0.3% from 119,936 in 2013 to 120,317 in 2014 with the Gaborone region recording the highest number of active farmers (36,957) in the country in 2014 with the Western region having the lowest (5,112). However by gender, farming is still male dominated.

Male farmers continued to dominate farming at 52.3% compared to their female counterparts with only 47.7% participation. The 2014 survey results reveal that males are the majority owners of livestock in the traditional sector. They own 64.8% of cattle, 56.3% of goats and 69.0% of sheep.

The Central Region has the highest number of cattle (545,785). However, Gaborone region which comprises Kgatleng, Kweneng and Bamalete/Tlokweng districts) recorded the highest in the goats population (437,500) and sheep population (62,256). For the past years, Central region has been dominating in terms of livestock population but Gaborone (Kweneng District) is now leading in respect of small stock population.

Pandamatenga farms (Pic By BAMB
Pandamatenga farms (Pic By BAMB

The participation of the youth in agriculture is still low according to the 2014 survey results. Out of a total of 120,317 traditional farmers countrywide, only 4.4% were aged between 15 and 39 years. The majority of farmers (63.7% were in the age group above 59 years (60+ years), followed by those in the 40-59 years at 38.3%.

Meanwhile, the results of the 2014 agricultural survey depict contrasting trends between livestock and crop production within the traditional sector. Livestock production continued to decline in 2014 except for goats, while arable production showed a marked improvement in all the major crops compared to the previous year.

“The good performance of the crop sector is attributable to the good rains received during the 2014 agricultural season as well as the input subsidies such as fertilisers and hybrid seeds provided by government,” it said.

Within the traditional sector, cattle population dropped from 1.8 million in 2013 to 1.6 million in 2014, sheep population from 261,458 to 227,247 while goats’ population increased from 1.5 million to 1.6 million during the same period. Cattle birth rate decreased from 52.1% to 48.8%, mortality rate declined slightly from 12.9% to 12.4% and off-take rate improved slightly from 7.7% to 8.1%.

During the period under review, the birth rate of goats dropped slightly from 42.3% to 41.9%. Mortality rate also dropped from 22.8% to 18.3% and off-take from 7.0 to 6.8%.

Sheep experienced a decrease in birth rate from 36.2% to 35.1% between 2013 and 2014 agricultural seasons, while the mortality rate remained almost the same at 35.1% compared to 36.0% recorded in 2013. Off-take dropped significantly from 4.4 to 2.7%.

The crop sector experienced a bumper harvest according to the 2014 survey results. Sorghum production jumped from 4,401 metric tons in 2013 to 14,310 metric tons in 2014, maize production from 2,689 metric tons to 28,550 metric tons, millet from 1,263 metric tons to 3,398 metric tons. Production of beans/pulses also realized a significant increase from 1,738 metric tons to 6,826 metric tons between the 2013 and 2014 agricultural seasons.

Compared to the preceding year, there was more area planted and area harvested for all the crops in 2014 except for millet. The crop sector recorded substantially high yields during the 2014 cropping season compared to the year before, in terms of yield per hectare planted and yield per hectare harvested. The good rains and the improved yields accounted for the relatively good harvest.

Statistics Botswana noted nevertheless agriculture plays an important role in rural development by providing food, income and employment for the majority of the rural dwellers. In Botswana, it has potential for growth and creation of employment opportunities particularly for the unskilled and semi-skilled people.

“However, the sector is not performing optimally due to recurring droughts and endemic animal diseases such as Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). Nevertheless, agriculture still remains a viable option for poverty reduction and employment creation because it is labor intensive.”