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June 12, 2019

Botswana's Cattle-Rearing Culture Threatened By Drought

Longer and harsher droughts are driving a growing share of Botswana's traditional cattlemen to give up their animals.

According to an agricultural census released by Statistics Botswana last year, the country's estimated cattle population has fallen from 2.5 million in 2011 to 1.7 million in 2015. The number of households raising cattle also has plunged, from about 75,500 in 2004 to 39,000 in 2015, a more than 45 percent decline, it noted.

In a country where cattle have long been a rural stash of savings, smaller herds affect how families... feed their children, buy school uniforms, and pay for everything from weddings and to burying the dead.

The loss of cattle also threatens the country's traditions and culture. Cattle skins have long been used to produce traditional dance attire for men, women and children, as well as clothing for traditional chiefs. But more recently cotton cloth and blankets, worn as shawls, have begun to replace hide clothing.

Botswana these days earns 70 percent of its earnings from diamond exports, not agriculture, which today produces less than 3 percent of GDP. But livestock still accounts for 80 percent of the southern African country's agricultural earnings.

Boikhutso Rabasha, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Agriculture, said she worries about the country's continuing ability to produce enough beef. Beef exports from Botswana have been declining for the past 35 years, she said.

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