Fresh, local food in Botswana: “We are ready to meet this demand.”

News and Press Release
Originally published
View original
Fanuel Otukile, a Horticulture Mentor from NCONGO, on the left with is mentee, Gaotshwarwe Otimile. © Nelao Haimbodi/OKACOM Secretariat

UNDP, with financing from the Global Environment Facility, is providing technical and financial support to the Permanent Okavango River Basin Water Commission in Botswana. A key component of project is the demonstration of environmentally conscious livelihoods and socio-economic development.

In partnership with the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security of Botswana and the Ngamiland Council of Non-Governmental Organizations (NCONGO) farmers in the Maun area have received equipment such as shade nets, wells and water tanks to develop their businesses and grow more food for local markets.

“We had frost for two consecutive years and were attacked by a pest called tomato leaf minor. We did not know what it was or how to manage it. That was the last straw and the next year we could not produce any tomatoes at all,” says Noseko Keemetsekgosi as he walks in between rows of tomatoes with his wife Kgalalelo. The couple runs Sesame Farm which boasts a healthy tomato crop under a shade net. It is hard to believe that merely eight months ago, Noseko was faced with disaster when the river dried up. After 12 well points, a shade net and a water tanks were installed on his land he was able start growing tomatoes again.

Located 200 metres from the Thamalakane River, the water pumps now ensure a sufficient supply for crop irrigation. “The water is used to sustain our farm and it is a blessing. We do not use any farming equipment or products which contaminates the water, so that it can continue to sustain us for the future,” he says.

Kgalalelo ensures the tomatoes are well packaged and labelled. “I make sure to present myself professionally to the retailers because appearance, and language really matters. Right now our tomatoes are in demand, so we don’t need to struggle.” Since July they have supplied local retailers with 452 kilograms of tomatoes. This success has given Noseko the confidence to re-invest earnings and expand.

Chatiwa Gaekgotswe bends down to examine a leafy head of lettuce, as her young son trails happily behind her in the deep ridges of lettuce plots. The mother of three, along with her husband, owns Fantacia Farm. A few years ago, She was farming mainly cabbage, maize and tomatoes. But a drought which saw the Thamalakane River dry up and led to hardships for many farmers. “We had no finances and we were totally finished. The river was dry, and we had no means to drill our own well points,” she recalls. “This project came at just the right time for us, because we were not coping.”

Chatiwa received a shade net, 12 well points were drilled on her land and a 10,000 litre water tank was installed. Fanuel Otukile, a Horticulture Mentor from NCONGO has been working with her. “Farmers have been introduced to the concept of maximizing yield per square metre and we show that there is no need to cultivate the entire field. The shade net is key for crop temperature control. They are also shown that it is best to use organic fertilizers such as manure, which is readily available. One key objective is to ensure that farmers remain in the market and ensure a consistent supply of produce all year round,” Fanuel says. “We introduced Chatiwa to lettuce, which is a high yield crop, and she was trained in how to carry out seed scheduling. It was also important to make ridges which ensure higher water holding capacity.”

Chatiwa harvests 250 lettuce heads every week and is one of the main suppliers to the local market. The profit from all these sales has empowered her to expand. “We want to grow more lettuce so that we expand the shade nets and buy more gum poles for the whole farm. 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 says.

Farm Fantacia is not only a farming success story for Chatiwa and her family, but has become an important learning centre, and she has helped some of her neighbours start backyard gardens.

Earlier this year Chatiwa together with some neighbours put up an additional stand-pipe and water tank which supplies fresh water to more people. “The project which was to benefit one person has benefited more than 200 people in this community. They didn’t have clean water, but now they can access water from the tanks, and we are very happy about this.”

Gaotshwarwe Otimile holds the roll of plastic cling film in one hand and a freshly picked lettuce in the other.

Gaotshwarwe is the owner of Farm Dolphins, which supplies lettuce to retailers in the Maun area. The farm has been equipped with a shade net which protects the lettuces, and irrigation is provided through the solar powered water pump which draws water from the Thamakalane River.

Her farming mentor Fanuel Otokile has been there every step of the way. “She is a new farmer and although she was in production, she didn’t understand the technical aspects. We advised her to do lettuce as it is in high demand,” Fanuel says. Lettuce was planted in a staggered cropping pattern to enable her to harvest weekly. When harvest time came Gaotshwarwe approached local retailers and took orders. “I was the only farmer able to supply them at that time, because we were using water from the well points, when the river was dry.”

Organic fertilizer was another important step for Gaotshwarwe.

“We wanted to use the ordinary fertilizers from the shop, although we knew about the kraal manure. It is only now that we are using it, after learning that is better for the crops. We are all benefiting especially the workers who have now learnt these new skills. I have also managed to introduce more vegetables to the community,” she says.

“This is the only business I know, so when there is no water I have nothing to do here and no means to farm anything” says Seleho Ramokgalo, who has been practicing open field farming for over 35 years in Xobe. He walks down to the riverbank and examines the pipes which channel water to a 10,000 litre water tank. “Irrigation is much faster, because we store water in the tank and now use free flow to irrigate,” he says. Seleho has planted herbs, okra, long beans and variety of paleka spinach, which is popular amongst the Indian community, his main customer base. Seleho looks forward to harvesting later this year.

“Seleho is very experienced but he is still eager to learn and always gives feedback regarding the methods used on this farm. We looked at helping him grow his crops properly, improve production, and increase the technical skills necessary to meet demand. The combination of shade net and drip irrigation is the best in this case,” says Fanuel. Seleho has been able to modify the planting scheme inside the shade net and choose brinjal as a high yield, high value crop. “Fanuel is always in the field, and visits us very regularly. It is very important that he continues with us because I can’t imagine life without him, even after the project ends,” Seleho says.

Seleho says “climate smart” methods have significantly improved the way he farms. “I have been introduced to seed beds, these are very effective because they store water and I have even incorporated this technique into my open field on the other side. It is really working for me.”

Being close to the river is a blessing, but also a challenge.

“What is frightening is the number of hippos living along the riverbank. There are many and they have tried to get near the shade net and have destroyed the fence. It is a struggle. Even last night we had to chase one hippo away.”

Seleho employs casual labourers when he needs extra help. This includes watching over the field and ensuring that the notorious grey lourie, known as the “go-away bird” does not pilfer the crops. “You have to be here at the field early in the morning and leave in the evening, this is a full-time activity,” he says.

“We are hoping for the best from this project, it should change our lives in one way or the other” says Hange Chilume, as he pulls back the parting to enter his shade net. Hange’s farm is in Makalmabedi, close to the Boteti River. He produces green pepper and leaf rape which he supplies to schools and local shops.

“Before the project, he had a lot of challenges in terms of pests and disease. He was unable to harvest the expected yield,” Fanuel says. “We have advised him to use indeterminate tomatoes, which are resistant to pests and produce high yield. He was used to planting open pollinated seed varieties and so we advised him to rather use the hybrid seed variety. This will build resilience to the harsh conditions posed by climate change.”

News travels fast in Makalmabedi village, and the community has become curious. “Many people who are aspiring to farm have been coming here. We start by telling them the value of vegetables before we show them the shade net structure. We also tell them to use what is readily available. For example, we have stacks of kraal manure and it is locally available and that is what we will be using,” Hange says.

‘We are going to put tomatoes in this shade net and the plan is to supply the local markets and extend into Maun. There is a shortage of vegetables and we are ready to meet this demand.”