An examination of the perspectives and experiences of crop production by the beneficiaries of the Arable Lands Development Programme (ALDEP)
Botswana is considered an economic success story since the discovery of diamonds in the late 1960’s. While this mineral wealth allowed the government to invest in infrastructure which reduced poverty nationally, it still remained high in the rural areas. Subsistence agriculture is the main source of livelihood in these rural areas. However agriculture had declined from 42.7% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at independence in 1966 to a mere 1.8% of GDP in 2006. As a result, in the late 1970’s the Government of Botswana conceptualised an agricultural development programme to address the high poverty levels in rural areas, targeting “resource-poor farmers”. This programme was aptly named the Arable Lands Development Programme (ALDEP). The objective of ALDEP was essentially to address the problem of food insecurity and assist in overcoming poverty. In turn, the government aimed to reduce its growing grain deficit, urban migration and high unemployment. However, after almost three decades of implementation ALDEP had little impact on the beneficiaries’ income or crop production levels. This was despite the fact that there were significant economic resources available to implement ALDEP. The main aim of this study was therefore to examine the perspectives and experiences of crop production of the beneficiaries of ALDEP. In order to achieve this, a basic qualitative research approach was applied aiming to examine how the participants interpreted and gave meaning to their involvement in ALDEP. In order to collect the qualitative data, semistructured interviews and focus group discussions were conducted with nineteen beneficiaries of ALDEP, three District Agricultural Staff members and one supplier. The findings revealed that as a result of a lack of participation due to a top-down decision making process throughout ALDEP, beneficiaries felt their real needs had not been met. Although many of the beneficiaries had developed coping mechanisms to overcome the risks of farming through alternative sources of income, they remained dependent on government due to variety of factors beyond their control. These factors included the interrelated nature of the characteristics of the beneficiaries, the environment in which they lived, the resources available and their perceived psycho-social status. Minimal crops were planted because of the beneficiaries’ age, limited family labour due to urbanisation and working farm land that had little rain and poor soil The result was less or no income from crop production, thus defeating the objectives of ALDEP. Another finding was that due to the hardships the beneficiaries experienced as a result of these interrelated factors, the youth were not interested in arable farming. This could be a potential problem for the future of the arable agriculture economy in Botswana if it is not addressed. Thus, if the government of Botswana are to meet similar objectives to ALDEP in future arable agricultural programmes targeting the resource-poor, they would need to address their decision making approach, encourage greater participation, and develop farming techniques suitable for an aging farming population or develop means of attracting the youth to the arable farming sector.
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