*Rural household income vulnerable *Almost all regions affected, government to introduce relief measures

Botswana’s rainfall is erratic and unevenly distributed, a matter that affects food production. In most cases, rain come in short intense storms, which results in a rapid run-off and drainage during the summer season between November and April. Official records over the years show that extreme temperature can reach up to 43˚C in the hot month of January and below 5˚C in July.

These conditions create an adverse climate for agriculture and other food production labours. Rainfall distribution for 2021-22 was good over most areas except Boteti, southern parts of Central District extending into Kgatleng and Eastern Kweneng. The impacts of drought are undoubtedly wide ranging affecting almost all sectors of development, particularly agriculture, water and health.

There is also loss of income due to loss of crops, livestock or employment in these sectors making rural households vulnerable. Range land resources, which cover more than 60 percent of the country and are the basis for the cattle industry, are the most affected by drought albeit to varying degrees.

Over the years, assessment teams witnessed drastic reductions in available forage. The elderly, destitute persons, children under-five are usually affected by drought. Malnutrition amongst these groups aggravates during this condition.

Another consequence of drought has to do with the outbreak of wild fires, creating a second reason that forces wild animal out of parks endangering both human and domestic animals lives. Fortunately, Botswana has an organised drought monitoring system composed of a strong network of stakeholders and organisations dealing with drought monitoring and mitigation amongst such Botswana Vulnerability Assessments Committee, Multi Sectorial Committee on Food Security and Poverty Eradication and Rural Development Council.

Assessment reports led the government to declare some years as drought season. Last month, President Dr. Mokgweetsi Masisi declared the 2021-22 a moderate drought year. The Director of Rural Development, Serufho Ntsabane, explained in an interview that institutions that monitor drought comprise of the respective ministries of Agriculture, Health and Wellness, Local Government and Rural Development, Environment and Tourism and Land and Water Affairs. She said variables used to assess drought and food security at household level include, distribution, area ploughed and planted, conditions of rangeland, livestock, human water supply, wildfires, wildlife, and malnutrition levels.

Ntsabane said a Drought and Household Food Security outlook tour is undertaken annually after the rainy season (April-May), and this exercise is conducted to complement early-warning reports compiled on a routine basis by government departments and ministries. She said the objectives of the exercise are to ascertain whether or not the particular year, that is, 2021-22 is a drought or non-drought year.

Drought in the context of this report, and its predecessors, refers to a deficiency in rainfall in terms of timing, spatial-temporal distribution, and/or overall amounts received and whether they were severe enough to negatively affect plant growth, water supplies, wildlife condition and ultimately human livelihoods and food security in general.

Others are assessment of nutritional status of under-five children using information generated from the nutritional surveillance system. In addition, assessment of emerging trends in the number and distribution of destitute persons, evaluation of progress on implementation of the on-going school and vulnerable people feeding initiative, poverty eradication projects and Ipelegeng programme.

She added that it is also to determine the need or otherwise for continued Government intervention, including the modification of form, magnitude, and scope of such interventions, particularly taking into account the identified manifestations of the prevailing situation, and developing recommendations for policy advice. Rural communities are highly dependent on crop and livestock production.

Communities with agro-based livelihoods suffer income losses and asset depletion, especially noting drought related livestock mortality and drought impact threatens the nutritional status of the population especially young children. Poor yield harvests, shortage of seeds, and impaired purchasing power at the household levels are also some of the impacts of drought in Botswana. Ntsabane explained that during drought periods all ministries and local authorities are mobilised to assist in relief programmes including public works projects designed to create employment during difficult times with the aim to provide relief to human suffering and prevent loss of life.

She says the types and forms of emergency provided by government during times of drought include increasing the employment quota for intensive labour works (Ipelegeng), purchase of additional water bowsers to help augment human water supply shortages (emergency water supply), institutionalisation of supplementary feeding of vulnerable groups in schools and clinics, as well as direct feeding for children under the age of five years and other vulnerable groups.

Some of the additional measures undertaken are provision of drought relief subsidies on selected livestock feeds, vaccines and supplements, cattle purchase schemes and monitoring of food supplies with the view of importing more if need be. And in some cases farmers are encouraged to sell some of their livestock to buy animal feed to alleviate the impacts of drought-related mortalities.

Cattle farmers are also encouraged to link up with arable farmers to use failed crop as fodder for livestock. Ntsabane further said the assessment shows that 2021-22 rainfall season started during the first week of October 2021. She added that in the first half of the season, rainfall was received over the southeast, southern parts of Kgalagadi and western Ngamiland. Rainfall distribution over the other areas was relatively poor and temperatures were generally normal.

However, from November 2021 there was a great improvement especially over the east and north. Kgalagadi was the only district which experienced extreme dryness. Good rains continued into December 2021 covering almost the whole country except the Boteti area where distribution was poor.

She further said rainfall distribution was good over the north and west parts of the country in January 2022, while eastern areas experienced a dry spell due to persistent tropical cyclone activity in the Indian Ocean which extended to February 2022, depriving the area of moisture. The dry spell heightened in February where most areas over the east received well below normal rain. Rainfall distribution over the west and north remained fair to good.

March 2022 saw a great improvement in total rainfall over most parts of the country. However, the Central District, Kgatleng and western Kweneng still received a deficit. Overall, despite the end of January and February 2022 dry spells, the distribution of rainfall over the 2021-22 season was good both in space and time over most areas.

Chobe and Ngamiland received above normal rainfall. “The rest of the country received normal rainfall except the Central District where rainfall distribution was poor in space and time”. She said that January 2022 was dry over eastern Botswana and western Ngamiland.

Rainfall was much below normal over these areas due to the tropical cyclone activity in the Indian Ocean which deprived the area of moisture. Only Chobe, Ngamiland and Kgalagadi received significant amounts of rainfall (80mm or more).

Kgatleng also received significant amounts during the last 10 days of the month. Most of the country experienced a dry spell with less than 50mm of rain. Both maximum and minimum temperatures were below normal during the month of January 2022.

Dry spell from January continued over eastern Botswana until the second week of February 2022. In fact most of Botswana except extreme southern areas received poor rainfall. Western Kweneng and Northern Ghanzi received normal rains.

Rainfall was especially poor over Central District due to continued cyclone activity over the Indian Ocean. During the month of March 2022, there was great improvement in rainfall, and the first 10 days experienced a wet spell where significant rainfall was received in almost the entire country. Ngamiland, Chobe and the Southern District in particular received higher than average rainfall.