Project aims to boost biosecurity in Botswana

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

A project spearheaded by the Department of Agriculture and Food's (DAFWA) international consulting arm is yielding promising results for Botswana farmers.

As part of the department's AGWEST International project to integrate plant, animal and wildlife biosecurity in Botswana, a team recently travelled to southern Africa, returning in early December.

After 44 years at the department, Botswana National Biosecurity Strategy team leader Ashley Mercy has technically retired.

But that hasn't stopped the passionate veterinarian from participating in several international agricultural projects, including the one in Botswana.

The last trip was his fourth to Botswana and with the project set to continue into this year, there will in all likelihood be several more.

Dr Mercy said the idea behind the Botswana project was to help the African nation diversify its agricultural production.

"Previously, Botswana's agriculture was totally dependent on beef cattle. It has a big cattle industry and it has access to the European Union market," Dr Mercy said.

"But it doesn't have a lot of cropping and this initiative is about getting the cropping going.

"The aim of this exercise is to develop a biosecurity strategy for the whole country."

A total of 11 WA professionals have travelled to the nation on various AGWEST International trips to help build and implement a national biosecurity strategy.

They have been working in the country's north around Pandamatenga, in the Chobe district, an area Dr Mercy said was similar to WA's Ord River development.

"It's not irrigated but it has got commercial farms and it's flat," he said.

"You've got the indigenous farmers and you've got commercial farmers of about 405-485 hectares each that are growing all manner of things.

"The soil is black and you can almost see this stuff growing before your eyes."

Botswana has about 25,000ha of land under production, but the country still has to import about 80 per cent of its food.

Department Regulatory Standards and Training manager Anita Wyntje also returned from Botswana in December and said the country was considering expanding its area of farmland.

"It's looking to double or treble the size of that area and be able to irrigate it from the main river system," she said.

Ms Wyntje said if that land was brought into production, it would give Botswana greater food security and the ability to export to other countries.

But access to high-value export markets is dependent on being able to control pests and diseases.

Surrounded by Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, biosecurity will be crucial to the country's burgeoning cropping and horticultural industries.

Working with the Botswana Ministry of Agriculture and local stakeholders, the WA team is not only helping to develop a national biosecurity strategy, but is also training locals on border quarantine, veterinarian work, weed and plant diseases and pests such as fruit fly.

The biosecurity strategy will be piloted in the Chobe area and, if successful, rolled out across Botswana.

In the meantime, AGWEST International manager of international projects Mar Hube said the AusAID and Government of Botswana jointly funded project also benefited the department.

"It provides staff with personal development, it opens up contacts and research skills and abilities," he said.

Mr Hube said AGWEST International specialised in delivering services and expertise in sustainable agriculture, with particular experience in delivering capacity building in developing countries. "We are assisting governments in developing countries to strengthen their agricultural sector," he said.

"It certainly profiles DAFWA and this department has a lot of expertise."

Ms Wyntje agreed. "It is nice to be able to take that (knowledge) somewhere else and shortcut that learning curve for people," she said.

"It's rewarding that we can contribute something here as part of that global network. There's a lot we pick up and learn in reverse in terms of ideas."

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