The small village of Shakawe is located approximately 380 kilometres from the bustling touristic town of Maun. Positioned at the tip of the borders of Botswana and Namibia, Shakawe is made up of small farming communities, rural homesteads and some government offices. Small scale fishing from the Okavango River forms a means of seasonal income for some of the locals. Livestock farming and crop cultivation is done at a small scale, however, the lack of knowledge about adaptive farming practices, coupled with the lack of finances to invest in relevant inputs has been a challenge for many farmers, who rely solely on the crops for income to sustain their households.
“I was not working after finishing secondary school and it was really tough , I used to sell airtime outside the shops every day. This is just so I can get something” says Maria Khukhwane. The 32-year-old was born and bred in Shakawe and had difficulty in finding a job or securing steady means of income.
“I used to visit my parents at the homestead and saw that they survive from farming so after a while I decided to start farming also.” Maria dedicated herself to planting onions, rape and green peppers on a piece of land allocated to her by her parents. Initially she sold most of her harvest to the local school, however, her crops could not survive the river drying up and water becoming scarce. She also realised there was a need to improve her farming methods.
Maria’s friend Benny Morundu, (33) experienced a similar situation “I have a degree in Accounting and worked in Gaborone and Maun. After some time I saw it is better to come back to Shakawe and just use the land here to start farming” says Benny. He started with planting green peppers, but struggled to get a market for the produce and barely broke even. Another challenge, was that he did not have the necessary skills to sustain the crops during harsh seasons.
In October 2020, Benny and Maria were two of the six farmers selected as beneficiaries of the UNDP supported and GEF financed OKACOM Climate Smart Horticulture Demonstration project in collaboration with the Botswana Ministry of Agriculture Development and Food Security (MADFS). The project aimed to capacitate farmers to implement climate smart agricultural techniques, with the provision of shade nets, irrigation systems, seedlings and water tanks. Each farmer was guided by a dedicated mentor, who trained the farmers on how to cultivate under the shade net, the use of organic fertilisers and the relevant methods of irrigation.
From the shade net erected on her land, Maria has so far harvested 200 kilograms of baby marrows since February 2021, which she has sold to local retailer. The mother of two says, “With these profits, I managed to buy more seeds so I can start with cabbage because now I know this is the season for that crop”.
“Since last year, I managed to send 614 cucumbers to Gaborone for sale and I know for sure my product is competitive and of good quality.” says Benny, who has harvested a total of 2000 cucumbers so far and has also supplied a local retailer in Shakawe with his produce. “I really appreciate the support I received to start with the cucumbers and there is even more potential because now I can also use the shade net to grow other vegetables too. I was able to get money to buy seeds to plant a variety of crops. I am able to pay my workers on the farm.” He adds.
The demonstration farmers have reaped the benefits of using climate smart methods, harvesting and taking the fresh produce to local market. The mother of two says, “Me and my children depend on these crops. I sell and use that money for our daily needs. I am very hopeful, because now I understand how to use the shade net and I already have a market for my next crop.”
The project has identified the need to further capacitate farmers with record management and basic bookkeeping skills required by MADFS for program support and monitoring. This has been addressed through a partnership with Local Enterprise Authority (LEA) which has recently facilitated training workshops for farmers in Maun and Shakawe.
Story and pictures by; Nelao Haimbodi, Communications & Outreach Manager, OKACOM