Botswana is now able to meet over half of the national demand for tomatoes and potatoes, nearly a year after the import ban on certain vegetables was imposed, and local farmers are also motivated to improve the quality of their products to satisfy the local market.
Assistant Minister of Agriculture Molebatsi Molebatsi told Parliament that local farmers are doing well since the import ban on vegetables, and there is marked improvement in the output of fresh produce per month.
"Botswana is now able to meet 70 percent of local demand of tomatoes, with about 7933 tonnes produced against the 15550 demand. Furthermore, Botswana produces 74 percent of the demand of potatoes," he said.
Farming has become a lucrative venture for many Batswana and the import ban on certain vegetables has motivated small-scale and rural based farmers, who are in essence the backbone of the farming sector, to improve their production.
A group of Batswana who have taken advantage of this ban and are thriving is Gryn Thrive, a youth company of five Batswana women, in Matlakeng Farms in Tswagare, located in the Borolong area. The farm produces lettuce, green beans and peas, green pepper and tomatoes.
One of the directors and farmer Lebogang Maphane told this publication that they received funding from government and established a horticultural company dealing mainly in vegetable production.
The company took off between last and this year mainly because there was demand in vegetable produce due to the import restrictions, and that provided an opportunity for them.
"We wanted to have a hand in feeding the country and play our part where we can. The outcry for local suppliers was so much we couldn't ignore. That’s when we grabbed the opportunity of becoming commercial farmers," she said. The other partners are: Precious Seipone, Osegofetse
Moabi, Neo Maphane and Rebane Selolwane.
Farming is usually and stereotypically associated with men, and so it is not surprising that it was no walk in the park for the ladies as they faced systematic sexism and gender bias arising from cultural barriers, and this was daunting.
"Some of the challenges we face as female farmers are that we’re at head to head competition with the male farmers, some of who are more established. We have also come across people who don't take us seriously which can be frustrating but we have learnt to grow a thick skin and be resilient," she said.
Their biggest challenge however, is meeting the standards required because the country previously imported high quality vegetable produce from neighbouring countries.
"We have to up our game to supply quality produce that the local market was used to; we shouldn't compromise and supply them with low quality standard. A lot of effort is required for this, and that means more money spent.
“The demand is very high and due to standardised farms, not a lot of vegetables can be produced as compared to neighbouring South Africa where they can have about 200 hectare farms. In Botswana, land isn't just readily available," she said.
Their main customers are restaurants and retail stores but they also sell to hawkers and individuals. She said that they maintain good relationships with their customers by ensuring that supply is consistent.
Maphane is confident that Batswana farmers have the potential to produce enough to feed the nation and meet local demand.
"This is possible provided we have the right mandate of what to produce, where and when, to avoid situations where we end up producing the same vegetable product at the same time countrywide which would saturate the market," she said.
Nowadays farmers have to find ways to adapt and mitigate the impacts of climate change and Maphane noted that Government can help by financing greenhouses as the structures are expensive yet very important for farmers.
"There's winter and summer crops and during these seasons temperature controlled rooms can come in handy to be able to achieve that constant supply."