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[GABARONE] Horticulture farmers in Botswana have called on the government to fund research and development (R&D) in the sector to increase its productivity and the quality of its outputs.

A lack of plant breeds adapted to the country's climatic conditions is hurting production and has maintained a reliance on imports, said representatives of the Botswana Horticultural Council at the Botswana Horticultural conference last month (15 September).

Michael Diteko, the chair of the council, said that farmers lacked appropriate technologies, such as new or improved seed varieties, or better farming techniques that can produce higher yields. "Research and development of new technologies is lacking; from independence [1966] to date we do not have any crop breeds suitable for our local conditions."

Samodimo Ngwako, a plant breeder and senior lecturer at the Botswana College of Agriculture, said the country was lagging in agricultural R&D. "We don't have enough breeders in horticultural research," he said.

Botswana's 736 horticulture farmers buy most of their seed from South Africa. But these have been bred for conditions ranging from that country's Mediterranean climate in the south-west, temperate in the interior plateau, and subtropical in the north-east.

This leads to additional costs for poor farmers. Nathaniel Modibedi, a small-scale horticulture farmer said he has to travel to South Africa to get information from their Agricultural Research Council on the type of fruit and vegetables he plans to grow. "This comes at an extra cost for me because I should be getting this information here," he said.

He added that Botswana needs its own horticultural crop breeds suitable for its conditions. Some seeds used in Botswana are from European countries and not necessarily suitable for local conditions.

"Botswana's climate is semi-arid. We need seeds that have been tested in our conditions," said Diteko.

He added that 90 per cent of production is in open fields, and "this is a big challenge" as crops are exposed to extreme temperatures, and farmers cannot afford expensive infrastructure like greenhouses.

"Farmers can go for the cheaper methods like net shades, but attention should also be given to the type of seed," he said.

Annual national demand for horticultural products in Botswana is 75,000 metric tons. But only around half of this — 36,000 metric tons — is produced locally, while the rest is imported from neighbouring South Africa, according to the Ministry of Agriculture's statistics.