Botswana, like the rest of southern Africa, is bracing itself for a drought and its impact on food security.
Only four percent of available land for cultivation was ploughed this rainy season, the Minister of Finance Baledzi Gaolethe warned in his budget speech on Monday.
He said the overall hectarage ploughed up to 31 December 2002 was 14,105 ha out of the national baseline area of 325,000 ha.
In addition, the condition of livestock had also deteriorated as a result of poor grazing, arising from the dry spell.
An official in the Department of Local government told IRIN that Gaolethe had decided to extend the country's drought relief interventions, traditionally lifted during the rainy season, to assist those adversely affected by the lower than normal rainfall.
The programme includes assistance in the form of public works schemes - which would give hard-pressed families a cash injection to buy food - feeding programmes for vulnerable groups including children under the age of five, people with tuberculosis and underweight expectant mothers.
It also allows people to register as temporarily destitute to receive welfare assistance to tide them over.
The programme includes the delivery of water bowsers to communities whose boreholes have dried up because of the fallen water table.
It also safeguards livestock, one of the biggest assets of the Batswana, through the temporary distribution of subsidised livestock feed. However, there was currently a shortage of feed and the Botswana Press Agency (BOPA) reported that farmers were traveling to neighbouring countries to source supplies.
The local government official explained that an inter-ministerial committee was currently reviewing the drought's impact on the ground, and was expected to present a report to cabinet on how many people have been affected.
Meanwhile, Batswana struggling through the drought are still reeling from the effects of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) detected near the border with Zimbabwe in January.
The outbreak led to the immediate suspension of the export of livestock and livestock byproducts, and a temporary halt on internal sales and commercial slaughtering, preventing farmers from selling cattle to tide them through the drought.
BOPA reported that cattle farmers have been prevented from using the Sharwe river as a water source to prevent contamination from Zimbabwean livestock, which have also been found to carry the virus.
Instead, large numbers of cattle are being watered at boreholes and the influx has led to overgrazing, the news agency said.
Micus Chimbombi, director of animal welfare in the Department of Agriculture told IRIN that the teams working on FMD believed it had been contained and that compensation for farmers was underway.
"We are mopping up at the moment, doing isolated animals and checking to see if any wildlife has been affected. The situation is under control," Chimbombi said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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