Knives are out for youthful Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security, Dr Edwin Dikoloti whom the unhappy local farmers accuse of neglecting them as stakeholders.
Also, Dikoloti’s colleague MPs cum farmers within Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) and from areas synonymous with pastoral farming swear to pile pressure on the minister and his deputy Beauty Manake, to wake up from a holiday they seem to be enjoying to talk to farmers’ concerns.
The farmers who are now emerging limping from the heat of COVID-19 are not pleased with the leadership of Dr Dikoloti noting that the minister must come from a hiding rock and face farmers. Due to concerns over deteriorating agriculture sector, farmers could not spare their frustrations over the slow manner in which the ministry is reacting amidst COVID-19 devastation. The most affected are both large and small scale commercial farmers that depend on selling their produce both locally and regionally, whose profits are compromised by the burden of paying tax despite low returns.
Farmers demand that Dr Dikoloti- a Veterinary Surgeon by profession, whom they pinned their hope on as the right man for the job when appointed to cabinet, demand that he rises to the occasion or be relieved of his duties.
In interview, the spokesperson of Chobe Horticulture Growers Association, Solomon Tshenyo said they have expected that the ministry would have been keeping in touch with the farmers. According to Tshenyo, they were shocked when the high ranking official in the ministry, Kgotso Madisa – Chief Horticulture graced their council meeting on Wednesday to make presentations.
“The farmers have been affected by COVID-19 and in this tough times would expect to see the leadership particularly minister interacting with farmers. At the moment we are on own and we will be opening up Francistown market for the farmers in few a weeks,” Tshenyo underscored.
He buttressed that ever since the new dawn of ministry leadership was ushered in, as Chobe Horticulture Growers Association they have never found any weighty help from the ministers.
The farmers affiliated to Mosisedi Commercial Farmers Association in Southern District some of whom hail from Dikoloti’s Mmathethe-Molapowabojang constituency said the minister is missing in action. One prominent farmer who was also one of the vocal critics of former Minister Patrick Ralotsia said as farmers they expected that the new minister will actively engage farmers countrywide.
“Mosisedi farmers association is one of local strategic agriculture stakeholders when it comes to cereal production in relation to food security. The farmers have been affected by the COVID-19. As worried farmers who hail from Mmathethe we remain clueless over present ministers’ direction for farmers owing to unsolved issues that are still existing,” said the veteran farmer.
Some of the master farmers MPs within BDP have also expressed a discontent on the youthful ministerial headship and the MPs are in full force to take minister to task in next parley session.
In an interview, one BDP backbencher MP who preferred anonymity said farmers in his rich pastoral farming constituency are complaining over lack of resolving beef liberalization issues.
The discontented legislator said the previous agriculture ministers fell out favor with farmers by not displaying esteemed seriousness whilst reacting to repeated concerns raised by farmers.
“As an MP and a farmer I cannot write anything positive about the minister and his assistant owing to contributing with substance in parliament issues affecting farmers. The minister is just rubbing shoulders only with well known farmers as I see on news this week,” said worried MP.
In addition, another MP who was vocal criticizing the agriculture’s ministerial budget proposals for lacking clear targets during budget debates in parliament prior says minister has to deliver.
He said the budget that is allocated to the ministry over the years has been reduced but points out that agriculture sector needs to be fully funded if government wants to create more jobs.
“Farmers are crying that COVID-19 has disrupted their businesses and they have no support. It is up to the minister to ensure proper execution of proposals for the sector as contained in the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan and he needs farmers to achieve such,” he said.
Government in its economic recovery plans maintain that raising the productivity of agriculture is essential and potentially a source of “quick wins” including enhancing domestic self-sufficiency, improving balance of payment, job creation among others to mention a few. “However, it says care has to be taken not to repeat past mistakes whereby the substantial resources and support that have been provided for agriculture have largely been wasted.
“Performance has been measured in terms of inputs rather than output, and there has been no significant improvement in productivity in key target sub-sectors such as beef and food grains. Also, proposed interventions need to be assessed to evaluate their commercial feasibility; they are included here subject to confirmation that their benefits exceed their costs,” reads a draft.
Efforts to get Dikoloti for comment proved futile as his mobile was off at time of going to print