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Climate change frustrates farmers

climate change

In Botswana, Agriculture is one of the sectors that is 100 percent reliant on the environment and the environmental dynamics, albeit it is in an uphill struggle of surviving the effects of climate change in Botswana. Effects of climate change are becoming more pronounced at the time when farmers thought they found their way around surviving the semi-arid climatic conditions of Botswana.

According to Botswana’s Third National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of October 2019, “traditional farming is the most dominant in terms of numbers of people involved and the geographical coverage. The majority of farmers are small-scale farmers who typically need continued assistance in capacity building to commercialize agriculture. This farmers are hit by adverse effects of climate change”.

Researchers have explained thus, “Climate change is characterized by observable changes in seasonal patterns. Usually less favorable weather patterns. In the normal conditions, precipitation recorded in the Northern part of Botswana ranges between 650-750mm, In the Western part range is between 350-250mm while the Southern region receives up to 550mm per annum. With effects of climate change there has been noticeable changes in these patterns. Rainfall now comes later than expected or earlier. This erratic rainfall does not only come late it rains and records different reading than it usually does”.

According to one farmer in the Southern District in Rateuyagae lands, Tshepo Mhiko, their ploughing season this year was delayed as it rained continuously. The soils got so wet and they had to wait until there is good soil moisture, suitable for ploughing. “Now when we thought it has rained and now the soil is in good condition for ploughing then came heavy rains,” he noted. This unprecedented happenings often finds farmers losing hope in farming, “my view is that these are the consequences of climate change,” he said.

Meanwhile, temperatures have shown a change in their pattern at different seasons. In the recent years, Botswana started experiencing coldest winters and hottest summers unlike before. Summer season in in Botswana has had the highest temperatures of up to 44 degrees Celsius. Attesting to this, Dr Nomazile Chico, a lecturer at Ba Isago University under the Department of Safety Management, Sociology and Environmental Science who is also a Coordinator: Climate Change & Entrepreneurship Centre at BA ISAGO University noted that the temperatures rise astronomically.

“For instance, with global warming that means the ozone layer which protects the earth from sun rays will be destroyed leading to the earth receiving excessive exposure to the sun radiation. Again, more heat leads to the melting of the glaziers in the North Pole which lead to the rising sea levels threatening life of those living in islands,” she explained. Botswana has been characterized by extreme heat temperatures resulting to heat waves. Such instances affect yield production as in most case crops are destroyed.

According to an Environmental Research and Public Health report by the Ministry of Wildlife, Environment and Tourism soil comprises of many biological and physical processes between the atmosphere and the lithosphere. Soil health is an integrative property of soil that supports agricultural sustainability. “As a matter of fact, soil microbes decompose organic matter, but a rise in temperature may alter the microbial population with changing temperature regimes sustainability. Thus high temperatures do not only affect plants it also affect the significant host of plants. Lack of seedling emergence roots from these high temperatures”.

Meanwhile the same report suggest that, undeniable is the fact that climate change also has an effect in desertification. Desertification is characterized by the limited growth of vegetation which culminates to land degradation. When the desert releases the dust to the air it compromises air quality which exacerbates the rate of the climate change even more. Some places, due to dryness, has increased loss of vegetation leading to expansion of dunes, especially in sandy environments.

According to Stockholm Environment Institute reports “climate change will have a progressively increasing impact on environmental degradation and environmentally dependent socio-economic systems with potential to cause substantial population displacement. This connoting that some animals, pests or livestock gets to desert their actual habitat for a better one. Hence outbreak of new pests or diseases in n area. Livestock in this instances are forced to go from out-skirts into the homes, cities or towns leading to stray animals. Pests and disease, because of the change in environmental conditions finds new habitat and live there”.

A Lecturer at the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural, Prof. Cecil Patrick under the Department Crop Production and Machinery says, “Although climate change has adverse impact in farming, farmers have a share in the effects of climate change that face them. He says because of changed environmental conditions, they are supposed to use better means of preserving soil moisture. “Farmers should reduce intensive cultivation to reduced cultivation that will preserve the moisture in the soil,” he explained.

Climate change presents some inimical challenges to farmers as grazing areas dry up and there is limited supply of food to livestock. Livestock end up having to feed on what is only available. “Livestock as cattle on its normal have preferred grass, it does not feed on any grass, now during drought season they are forced to feed on anything available” he explained. Prof. Patrick further explained that as cattle gets feed on what is available, they end up taking hard substances like metals wood or plastics. This substances causes stress in the livestock’s body, consequently their immune system gets weakened. “As the immune system gets weakened the animal gets more susceptible to opportunistic diseases and malnutrition conditions like aphosphrosis.”

Lawrence Ratau, a farmer in Potsane in the South East District attests to the adverse impacts of climate change on them as farmers. Citing that the major problem of lack of rainfall or sometimes delayed rains. The problem emanating from erratic rains results in seeds dying under the soil and subsequently no germination or seedling emergence. Ratau notes that this phenomenon has no other remedy except ploughing again.

“When this happens, we do not automatically plough again, we wait for the report from the meteorological services that forecast better rains, if the forecast is on the contrary we give up and return home to carry out other domestic operations” he explained. Ratau further notes that climate change is characterized by droughts. “Drought has a very bad impact on us farmers as we lose most of our live stock to it,” he narrated. Ratau notes that during those times, most of water sources in our vicinity dries up, forcing our livestock to go long distances in search of water, and that results in lower milk and beef yields. Droughts usually suck a lot from the farmers pocket as supplementary feeding of livestock become needful.

Meanwhile, Dr Chicho, further observed that climate change and climate variation has affected farmers immensely leading to reduced yields, poor quality outputs. This eventually leads to food insecurities. “In the long run farmers tend to abandon farming and remain in cycle of poverty as their property as lands get repossessed, especially those funded by financers” she said.

Both Dr Chicho and Prof Patrick are of the view that given the issues of climate change and malpractices in agricultural operations, the way towards food self-sufficiency will be a long walk. He noted food-sufficiency for Botswana requires that there be change in our farming practices. “Until we drastically change our farming practices, the Government starting to equip benefactors of programs like ISPAAD to change from intensive cultivation to minimum cultivation of the soil then our agriculture would change and yield better, climate change notwithstanding.” he explained.

Prof Patrick further encouraged the government of Botswana to consider regulating and encouraging farmers to use herbicides as they are a good alternative in combating climate change. “There are better herbicides that are environmentally friendly that can be an alternative to weeding, as weeding results in both soil disturbance and loss of soil moisture- a good required condition for seedling emergence,” said Prof Patrick.

 

 

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