CropsFruit & NutsHorticulture

Orange farmer decries lack of government subsidy

Magwana is the only Motswana in Bobirwa and Tuli Block area who produces oranges to supply the country. His farm is in Molalatau village.

He told Mmegi that despite his quest to contribute towards the country being self-sufficient in food production to reduce the import bill, he continues to incur huge costs on electricity, fertilisers and pest control chemicals.

He pleaded with government to consider subsidising his kind as it does for subsistence farmers.

He said the assistance should even include drilling of boreholes if the water yield drops and cited incidences where farmers who were funded by the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) had their property attached because they could not afford to pay as the water yield could no longer sustain their fields.

He said as a result of lack of subsidy, he is forced to hike prices a bit to cover costs incurred, but this results in customers preferring to buy oranges from South Africa where they are cheaper because the chemicals, fertilisers, electricity and water is very affordable.

“Subsistence farmers are given more assistance yet their yield is not guaranteed as that of horticultural farming because it is controlled.  So government must intervene.  Nonetheless I am trying to produce quality for the local market,” he said.

Having started from humble beginnings, Magwana is now a proud supplier of chain stores like Choppies and has a market as far as Jwaneng, Gantsi and Maun. He is happy that he has carved a niche in the horticultural industry that was believed to be reserved for white farmers only. Hardly a month ago the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security closed borders for the import of oranges and he supplied the country.

This gave his business a shot in the arm as he achieved maximum sales and the supply from his farm has already run out.  Each tree produced over 20 bags and at its peak a tree is projected to produce over 40 bags.

“I had informed the ministry about my production and assured them of the yield. Each year, we meet as horticultural farmers and the ministry officials at Martin’s Drift where we submit our produce estimates and when they will be ready for the market so that we agree on the dates of border closures.

This increases our market and when we run out of supply, we inform the ministry again to open borders for our customers to import,” he said.

Magwana also stated that it has taken him close to six years to procure a centre pivot through government and in this period he had to wait to diversify into vegetable production. He said comparatively in other countries, securing such does not even take months.

The former Debswana employee derived his passion for farming from countries like Japan, Romania, USA, Spain and even South Africa where he used to travel while on duty. In 2008 he approached the Land Board for a piece of land for horticulture and was given a hectare.  He developed the piece of land, drilled a borehole and started digging holes for orange trees. In 2014 he realised his first harvest though it was not much and he supplied the local schools for free.

The trees were then three years old. The following year, he continued to supply the schools though the harvest had increased.

His self-financed farm reached full production in 2016.

He said he was at ease to do everything because there was no pressure of having to pay back the loans.  “I invested part of my package into the farm and it was a risk I was determined to take hence I worked hard,” he said.

Magwana initially bought 800 orange trees from a South African nursery through the assistance of the ministry of Agriculture and used his tractor and a 1,000 litre bowser to water all the 800 trees, which would take the whole day.

He then engaged the services of a South African pipe manufacturer to install the pipes, diesel engine and all necessary accessories at a cost of P68,000 and then hired labourers to dig trenches.

Magwana then had to connect electricity to the farm because with the diesel engine he used four drums a month which to him was economically viable. He installed electricity at a cost of P268,000 and now pays a monthly bill of P1,500 a month. He said orange farming does not need much of the human labour except about two individuals to check for blockages of water supply to each and every tree. More labour is only needed during harvesting.

Of the 800 trees that he bought only three died. He bought an additional 200 locally but all of them died and part of the farm where they were planted is plain and as a result he incurred losses.

He suspects that the grafting experience is more advanced in South Africa than locally.

He is happy that the yield this year was the highest so far, yet the trees have not reached their peak produce. “I used to produce 25,000 tonnes of oranges annually, but currently the yield have shot up to 72,000 tonnes.  I am unable to meet the local demand and I am working on increasing the farm. The challenge is that oranges are seasonal and there are costs in between the seasons, but I am happy that the produce has been able to pay back the farm costs,” he said.

The farm, like any fruit producers has challenges of fruit fly and Magwana controls it by cleaning up the rotten fruits after harvest.

Another challenge is that unfavourable weather conditions like wind and hail that blow away the flowers before fruition.

He intends to grow wind breakers along the perimeter fence.

“This farm is now my source of living since I am a retiree and I am happy that the ministry assists a lot with marketing. The assistance I get from LEA is also out of this world,” he said.

He said Choppies is his main customer and said if it was not due to shortage of packaging bags, Choppies could have bought all the produce.

“I had bought 5,000 packaging bags from South Africa and all were taken by Choppies. Informal customers on the other hand buy in crates,” he said. He said field officers should be more visible and visit farms to appreciate the challenges farmers encounter and assist with all available government programmes as he regretted that he was not aware that he could have been assisted through the Horticulture Support Programme under ISPAAD for part of the expenses.

He has got no experience in farming as for 28 years he only worked as a section manager for pit services, but said the management skills have catapulted him this far.