Against the grain

Baitshepi Sekgweng
HOME GROWN: Sorghum in shortage

Govt justifies import export restrictions on grains

Amid the recent shortand age of sorghum in the country, which has led to supply challenges as well as soaring sorghum prices, government has imposed a restriction on exportation and importation of scheduled key grains being; maize and sorghum effective May15th, 2023.

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Through the directive there shall be no imports or exports of maize and sorghum grain without permission from the Ministry of Entrepreneurship.

Harvested maize and sorghum by farmers, subsidized or supported by government, is expected to be strictly sold to the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) for storage, resale, redistribution, or further processing in the value chain businesses.

Despite the recent supply challenges- mostly of sorghum, government through the Ministry of Entrepreneurship maintains that the restriction was intended to promote and stimulate entrepreneurship in the industry and ensure that the country is able to depend on its own production.

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Sources have further indicated that the directive was released prematurely, a situation which has forced government to the negotiation table with both sorghum and maize millers associations.

“Botswana has in the recent past experienced shortages in both maize and sorghum in both maize and sorghum grains. The shortage in maize was caused mainly by disruptions in global supply chain as a result of conflict in the Black Sea and Covid-19 pandemic. This has resulted in difficulties in obtaining imported maize. Sorghum on the other hand experienced shortages despite the fact that the country has the capacity to produce quantities that meet its demand. So to minimize negative effects caused by disruptions in global supply chains of grains we want to rely on our own production,” said Ministry of Entrepreneurship mouthpiece Clement Sibanda when quizzed on what motivated the decision.

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Botswana’s annual sorghum consumption currently stands at 100 000 metric tonnes. While sorghum supply shortage poses a risk to the national food security, maximum and minimum levels of Strategic Grain Reserve(SGR) should be 30 000MT and 10 000MT respectively. However, the current holdings are way below the stipulated threshold being 9200 metric tonnes.

For maize, consumption is at 281 040 metric tonnes which goes to millers and animal feed producers. The SGR levels of maize should always be at 30 000 metric tonnes as maximum and 5000 metric tonnes as minimum. However, the current holdings are 5008 metric tonnes.

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“The restriction on importation and exportation does not in any way amount to a moratorium on imports and exports. It seeks to intensively monitor the importation and exportation of these grains to ensure that local entrepreneurs are empowered and facilitated to grow and meet the country’s food security needs,” explained Sibanda.

According to the latest figures from Statistics Botswana, maize was among Botswana’s top imports accounting for 46.1 percent of total imports with a price value of P81 million, indicating the importance of grains as a staple food. Sorghum on the other hand accounted for 3.1 percent of the cereal imports with cost value of P5.3 million. For a long time local farmers have shown little to no interest to selling their produce to BAMB citing low prices. Nonetheless, BAMB has since tried to entice farmers with price improvement from P2 550 per tonne to P3 750.

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Currently selling at P4 200 per tonne, Ryan Neal of Pandamatenga Commercial Farmers said they are in negotiations with BAMB since they want more of their sorghum produce.

“We have always supported the government and that is our goal because our sorghum produce is not for exports but is consumed locally. So we don’t have any problem with the decision of the government because we supply BAMB but still we are allowed to sell to anyone such as Choppies and Bokomo who are our customers,” said Neal further sharing that they are expecting 25 000 metric tonnes of sorghum harvest in June-July 2023.

Against the grain
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