To eradicate poverty, the President of Botswana, Ian Khama in his inaugural address in 2009 identified poverty eradication as one of his flagship programmes. The coordination thereof was subsequently housed in the Office of the President.
Packages introduced were mostly agricultural. Such range from bee keeping, backyard gardening, poultry, backyard tree nursery and landscaping to cite a few. The ineluctable fact is that the government did not take up arms against poverty alone.
Embassies, the private sector and other independent stakeholders were implored to help. The Chinese Embassy in Botswana and the Chinese people living in Botswana are among those that answered the appeal, subsequently playing a plausible role in the agricultural sector.
The Ministry of Agriculture’s Division of Research and Statistics says, about 69 percent of the population benefits from agriculture –as farmers, labourers or both. However, due to regular and prolonged droughts, the Ministry states that both crops and livestock have not been performing as expected.
Notwithstanding challenges exacerbated by climate change, “the Chinese government has contributed to this industry through training. A few of our officers have attended courses in Head Management, Poultry, and Equines. Some traveled to China to benchmark, observing modern technologies employed by China,” says the Ministry’s Chief Information and Public Relations Officer, Boikhutso Rabasha.
Nevertheless, she called on China as a first world country to share its modern technologies. She said China should demonstrate and sell farming inputs and equipment at reasonable prices. As she believes Botswana can learn a lot from China. As for the Chinese community, other than direct involvements in farming, Rabasha says some have added value in the industry by opening food outlets to extend the food value chain.
“It’s about time we diversified farming in Botswana. We cannot fight changing weather patterns or do anything about unpredictable rains, but we can look for and invest in plants that will cope. Which is why I decided to plant moringa trees,” says Hu.
He says this at a time when the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development in partnership with the United Nations are fearful that Botswana could fail to reach UN goals on poverty eradication.
The Botswana Sustainable Development Goals Roadmap launched by the partners in February 2018 cites high income inequality and failure to achieve inclusive economic growth as factors that demoralise poverty eradication.
Hu Yan, is a Chinese moringa tree farmer based in the outskirts of Tlokweng village. He is one of the Chinese people that responded to the Presidential call, taking to farming regardless of the fact that Botswana is a semi-arid country with unpredictable rainfall.
A challenge that continues to discourage local farmers, consequently also hampering the endeavour to end poverty. Hu has been living in Botswana since 1996, and so he now considers Botswana home, a home for which he is doing all he can to help attain food security as he is well aware of the struggle.
In October last year after partnering with property mogul Sayed Jamali, Hu planted 10,000 seedlings at the Tlokweng farm. After three months, most of the trees had grown to over three meters long.
“We packaged several product samples this past week and took them to the President for appreciation and approval,” says Hu. His plans are to produce tea, medicinal powder, green noodles, juice and moringa nuts, then sell them to local shops, eventually exporting the surplus.
“I plan to export to China, America and Europe. This tree cannot grow in those countries because of freezing weather conditions,” he says, excited at the prospect of commencing production work in his factory in March 2018.
Hu’s moringa tree farming project has not only created employment for Tlokweng villagers, it has also inspired local farmers to consider investing into the moringa tree farming business.
“The other day my boss brought moringa mageu. My workmates drank it all and would not stop boasting about how delicious it is. Now I see that a lot of moringa products can be manufactured and sold,” says Kelibileone Diomano, a supervisor at Hu’s moringa farm.
Diomano enjoyed agricultural subjects at school, and because of this job he has been doing for Hu, he is considering planting his own trees. “I used to think that moringa was a useless thing women liked selling on the streets. I knew nothing about it until Mr Hu. Right now I see the potential this plant has to develop and influence my life for the better,” he expounds.
Before investing into the Tlokweng project Hu Yan motivated citizens to farm moringa, but his Gamodubu and Oodi village efforts failed due to lack of commitment and support on the part of his Batswana partners.
“I constantly encourage locals to buy and plant these trees, some do yes. But some think two years is a long time to wait for the tree to fully mature. They overlook the fact that you plant once, and for twenty years or so after, all you do is reap the benefits,” says Hu, adding that, “after three months of planting even, the leaves can be harvested and used as herbs when cooking eggs or they can be boiled in hot water to make tea.”
The benefits of investing in moringa he says are almost immediate. As a farmer Hu’s interests do not solely lie with moringa. At the Tlokweng farm, he and his partner are currently constructing a 1,800 square meters green house with the intention to plant vegetables, fruits, and flowers to sell to the local market.
“This first one is only a pilot project, if it succeeds, we will construct three more. If this farm produces to capacity we will construct other green houses in Selibe Phikwe on the land President Khama promised us,” says Hu.
The green house under construction will be made of glass, custom made from China. In it, Hu plans to have a restaurant that will serve as a place of relaxation for town people, while students can visit and learn about traditional and modern ways of doing agriculture. To succeed, Hu says they could use financial support.
Chinese farmers like Hu have taken up farming at a time when citizen farmers are dispirited. Kabelo Thari, of the Botswana Workcamps Association (BWA) is of the view that, “the climate change phenomenon has worsened Botswana’s unfriendly weather conditions, causing agricultural output to fall drastically in recent years.”
Before the Chinese took to direct farming, Chinese nationals and the Chinese Embassy often donated farming machinery like tractors, and availed funds to citizen farmers to acquire farm land when needed and even went as far as facilitating agricultural skills transfer.
Thari’s association is a beneficiary of the Chinese Association of Botswana’s financial support for agricultural projects.
Other than financial support given to them to establish a horticulture farm in Oodi village, the association availed leadership development training workshops to BWA members. “Unfortunately, our horticulture project did not bear fruit as the main challenge was pests, mainly termites,” he explains. Despite the failure, Thari and his team have not given up on the project, but hope the Chinese will continue assisting them so they realise their goal.
According to Statistics on Agricultural Produce with South Africa (SAPSA), collected between January and December 2017 by Statistics Botswana (SB), the country imported fruit juices worth over BWP178 million, but only made BWP950,703.00 in exports of the same product to South Africa. Should farmers like Thari excel, Botswana would spend less on imports and export more for a change.
Overall, Statistics Botswana says over 80 percent of Botswana’s fresh produce comes from South Africa therefore Chinese people, like the Botswana government, would love to see Botswana become food sustainable, hence their active commitment in the ‘fight against poverty inequality and exclusion’ within the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, focusing on the principle of “leaving no one behind.”
While some like Hu Yan have taken to direct farming, others like Miles Nan who has also lived in Botswana for over two decades have established themselves as advocates of the development of the agricultural sector with the hope to see Botswana desist from importing food.
“Last week I went to Jiangsu Province in China. While there I visited a university and inquired on their ways of doing agriculture. I wanted technology on developing a new model of maize which does not need too much water and can survive Botswana’s climatic conditions. After consultations the professors there said they could help,” Miles reveals elated.
Should his efforts bear fruit, Botswana will spend less money on maize imports. Last year alone according to Statistics Botswana’s SAPSA, the country spent BWP10,296,729.87 on maize seeds imports from South Africa, in turn making only BWP294,975.00 from exports of the same to South Africa. The seeds were meant to ensure the country produces its own maize meal as it spends millions buying from South Africa. Last year BWP23,775,698.00 was spent on maize meal imports from South Africa, and only BWP6, 996,754.00 was gained from exporting maize meal to South Africa.
Miles is the Founding Director of a company called Mileage Air, a company he founded in 1999 driven by the desire to afford Botswana mechanical construction services. At present Mileage Air is the sole agent of GREE air-conditioning in Botswana.
In 2009, Miles invested into yet another passion, venturing into the media. His media company, other than running a newspaper, offers events management services.
One event that’s of interest to the discussion at hand is his Africa China Agricultural Cooperation and Development Summit. Through this event Miles advocates for the development of agricultural industries in Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt and Morocco.
“Our first event ever was held last year in Zambia after we failed to have it in Botswana. Subsequently, we held the second one in August last year in Zimbabwe. Over a hundred people attended. We had invited professors and entrepreneurs from China, and discussions centred on technological development and cooperation,” says Miles.
The first 2018 summit will be held in May in South Africa, to be followed by small seminars in Botswana and Namibia. Besides the 2030 Agenda, Miles’ actions are in tune with African countries’ committed to implement the African Union Agenda 2063, which is both a vision and a plan to build a more prosperous Africa in 50 years.
“In August we will have similar events targeting Zambia and Kenya, and in October we do Egypt and Morocco,” elucidates the man who believes that to advance in the sector Botswana needs to capitalise on technology so that it can create models of plants that can survive the country’s temperatures. He said Botswana should design farm implements which suit its weather conditions.
One manufacturer that is delighted by his custom-made equipment from China is Michael Hallam. “Our organic capacity before China was 5 000 tonnes per year. After China came on board the capacity of our granulation plant rose to 30,000 tonnes. Meaning 25,000 extra,” says Hallam, the Managing Director of the Organic Fertilizer Manufacturers Botswana company based in Mmamashia village. Hallam established his company in 2011, following his employment with a local feedlotting company.
“I saw mountains and mountains of manure lying around. Often I used the manure to grow crops that I then fed to animals. So naturally when I left my job I decided to put cow dung and poultry manure to good use rather than let it go to waste as it had been,” he says. His association with manure dates back to his childhood when he observed his grandfather use manure on his fields.
The impact that organic fertiliser had on his grandfather’s plants never left him. At university in 1979 he wrote a thesis on the use of manure in cropping production.
When establishing his company in partnership with colleagues from Zimbabwe, Hallam saw an opportunity not only to live a dream, but one to encourage climate change mitigation. His desires would not have been realised without a Chinese company called Qingdao Seawinner Machinery and Engineering. “The first machinery we acquired was from India, when using it we found out that it was not appropriate for our requirements,” shares Hallam.
Fortunately for him he had spent eighteen months in China a few years before. When he found himself in desperate need of custom-made machinery, he took advantage of the networks he had created and located a company that made him a happy man. “I found Qingdao very professional.
They shipped equipment and sent two engineers to come and assist with installing. We have not had issues with our machinery since installation in 2016,” he says. Hallam produces fertilizers like the Kalahari and the Neem eco organic by mixing manure with enriching products from India, Mexico, Europe and America.
The company invested in and installed a state of the art blending, coating and bagging plant with a capacity of 40,000 tons per annum, and a packing and sealing plant primarily for its organic products with a capacity of 20,000 tons per annum.
With this massive investment and the granulating plant from china the company is well placed to cover all of Botswana’s fertilizer requirements and become a major exporter of products into the region.
Sixteen products are already registered in Botswana. Seven of these products are 100 percent organic. Hallam has already started selling his products in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
“As the only registered fertilizer manufacturing company in Botswana, we are removing a problem from the environment while creating direct and indirect employment. Cow dung releases methane into the sky,” he says.
Adding that, people are now going back to using organic fertiliser instead of chemical fertilizers which have since contaminated ground and surface water resources, and increased salinity of soils, almost wiping out a reasonable population of bees crucial for pollination across the globe.
With the contribution of the Chinese, Botswana seems to be making strides in the right direction. The Botswana Government is looking to reduce its reliance on imports and therefore fully supports local developments. When fully realised, hunger will be a thing of the past in this upper middle income country.
The irony of this being that for every undernourished person there are now two overweight people in the world.