UNDP Program in Botswana Invests in ‘Climate Smart’ Farming

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SEATTLE, Washington — In the drought-prone Maun region of Botswana, local farmers are partnering with the United Nations Development Programme to increase agricultural production in a water-saving, sustainable way.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is working with the local government of Botswana to increase the socioeconomic status of farmers in the region while, at the same time, promoting eco-friendly agricultural practices. Through this program, the UNDP is mentoring 19 farmers in Botswana. It supplies them with shade nets and water tanks, helping them use less water and land without reducing crop yield. The UNDP is also beginning to work with farmers in Angola and Namibia.

Geography and Sustainability

This program is spearheaded by the UNDP with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) of the Work Bank. It focuses on the Maun region of Botswana, which is part of the Okavango River Basin. This basin also borders Angola and Namibia and is one of the driest areas in the region.

Botswana faces “annual rainfall below 500 millimeters, which is quite low for just rain-fed agriculture,” said  Janeiro Avelino, project manager of the UNDP, in an interview with The Borgen Project. First, the UNDP works to help improve the utilization of rainwater sources. Then, it helps farmers “conserve the water sources, improve the soil conditions and improve the productivity of these crops.’”

Sustainable farming conserves resources like water and protects natural ecosystems from the toll of agricultural practices. The main goal of the project is “to ensure the resilience of crops now and in the future” to create a “cross-generational responsibility,“ said Char Miller, Pomona College professor of environmental analysis, in an interview with The Borgen Project.

The program promotes this sustainable agriculture by teaching farmers to produce their usual crop yield using less water and land. It also teaches local farmers techniques like seed scheduling to maximize yield. Seleho Ramokgalo, a farmer in the program, says that these sustainable, “climate-smart” practices have helped him increase crop output by introducing seedbeds that store water. “I have even incorporated this technique into my open field on the other side,” he said in an interview with the UNDP.

Economic Impacts of Sustainable Agriculture

The UNDP program in Botswana is working to sustainably produce higher-value crops domestically in an effort to decrease dependence on foreign crops and boost local economies. “By empowering local farmers, we could also break that dependence to the South African market” because local farmers will produce their own products, Avelino said. This would help “reduce Botswana’s dependency on imports” while increasing sustainable crop growth.

In Botswana and neighboring countries, many people are subsistence farmers who only produce enough food for their households, explained Mohamed Bakarr, a lead involvement specialist from the GEF, in an interview with The Borgen Project. Additional crops, like those used in the tourism industry and in restaurants, need to be imported from other countries. Increasing domestic production is important because agriculture is “the main source of employment” for many people in Africa, said Bakarr.

By teaching farmers how to transition from subsistence to commercial agriculture, the UNDP program helps them generate revenue through farming. On a national level, reducing dependence on food imports can lead to an increase in foreign trade in other areas as well, Bakarr said. “Commercialization is key to transforming agriculture in Africa.”

The UNDP program’s mission in Botswana is to help farmers sustainably meet this increased demand for domestic agriculture. It is also important that these farmers remain profitable and continue to produce the same yield through these sustainable practices. Through effective resource management and environmental sustainability, farmers can also improve the economic value of that country and the “market in terms of the high-value crops that can also be produced at the local level,” Avelino said.

Success Stories from the UNDP Program in Botswana

Before the program, farmers in the region were not necessarily concerned with sustainable agriculture. According to Avelino, they were mainly looking at how they could produce high-end crops efficiently. This UNDP program has only been running for two years. Even so, farmers in the program have already begun investing in additional supplies like shade nets.

UNDP mentors encouraged Chatiwa Gaekgotswe, a new farmer in Botswana, to schedule her seeds and produce more high yield crops. Using sustainable methods, Gaekgotswe has since become one of the main suppliers to a local supermarket. “We want to grow bigger, to supply lettuce to the whole of Maun and even Gaborone. We really do not want to see lettuce coming from South Africa,” she said in an interview with the UNDP.

The UNDP program aims to increase the crop production, and subsequently, the income, of the farmers it supports. But, it also hopes to prove that their methods of sustainable agriculture are effective. “This project is mainly conceptualized to provide evidence and argument [that]community-based initiatives are equally, if not more, effective to improve livelihood conditions of the basin and ensure that the basin ecosystem is protected,” Avelino said.

Laney Pope

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