Agriculture is a proven path to prosperity as no region of the world has developed a diverse, modern economy without first establishing a successful foundation in agriculture. This trend is going to be critically true for Africa where, today, close to 70% of the population is involved in agriculture as smallholder farmers working on parcels of land that are, on average, less than 2 hectares. As such, agriculture remains Africa’s route for growing inclusive economies and creating decent jobs mainly for the youth. In Botswana, the agriculture economic sector is limited mainly to range resource-based livestock and pockets of arable farming based on rainfall and limited irrigated agriculture at several places (Alemaw et al. 2006). However, despite this aforementioned and the recent slowing in economic growth across much of the continent mainly due to the sharp drop in the global prices of oil and minerals, the prospects for African agriculture looks favorable. The African food market continues to grow with World Bank estimates showing that it will be worth US$1 trillion by 2030 up from the current US$300 billion (World Bank 2007, 2010). Demand for food is also projected to at least double by 2050. These trends, combined with the continent’s food import bill, estimated at a staggering US$30–50 billion, indicate that an opportunity exists for smallholder farmers – Africa’s largest entrepreneurs by numbers – who already produce 80% of the food to finally transition their enterprises into thriving businesses (AGRA 2017). Botswana is a net food-importing developing country (NFIDC); thus there is an opportunity to increase domestic production of basic foodstuffs, particularly cereals (grain sorghum and maize) and pulses. The national demand for cereal stands at 200,000 t per year, of which only 17% is supplied through local production (GoB 2019). Therefore, investments in arable agriculture will stimulate private sector development, create employment, value-addition opportunities, and enhance food security and ultimately exports.

Climate change poses a challenge to the attainment of agricultural potential. Climate change is threatening to undo decades of agricultural development efforts in developing countries with scientific projections pointing to a warmer climate characterized by increases in both intensity and frequency of extreme climate events, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Nkemelang et al. (2018) observed an increase in extreme weather events such as heat waves and late and high spatial and temporal rainfall variability across Botswana. Therefore, although climate adaptation is a global requirement, the need for adaptation is considered higher among developing countries where vulnerability is presumably higher (Adger 2003) and also in the interest of individual farmers who rely on the revenue generated from agricultural production (Holzkämper 2017). The need for adaptation is especially true in Africa as the population is highly dependent on rainfed agriculture (the most climate-sensitive sector) and particularly for smallholder farmers as they generally have limited adaptive capacity (Morton 2007), hence considered among those who will suffer most from the impacts of climate change (Easterling et al. 2007). Mogomotsi et al. (2020) highlight the vulnerability of smallholder rainfed famers to climate change and variability in Botswana. Smallholder agriculture has long been characterized by adaptive and flexible strategies to reduce vulnerability to climate natural variability and soil depletion (Adger et al. 2003; Tschakert 2007; Thomas et al. 2007; Eriksen et al. 2008). African farmers, particularly in dry land areas, have developed both on- and off-farm adaptation strategies in response to reoccurring droughts. Cooper et al. (2008) observed that coping better with current climatic variability in rainfed farming systems of sub-Saharan Africa is an essential first step in adapting to future climate change, while Muyambo et al. (2017) highlight the role of indigenous knowledge in drought risk reduction.

Nevertheless, climate change is going to negatively affect smallholder farmers beyond their coping capacity for naturally-occurring droughts, hence the need to hybridize traditional drought coping mechanisms with technology through co-development of climate resilience farming systems involving farmers, extension workers, and agricultural experts. Hence the need to retool farmers and extension officers for climate. Williams et al. (2019) observed that smallholder systems heterogeneity requires local specific climate adaptation for reducing the negative impacts of changing climate in regions heavily relying on small farms agriculture.

Due to the instability of agricultural production as a result of complex, dynamic, and interrelated factors such as climate, markets, and public policy that are beyond farmers’ control, there is a need for farmers to develop new farming systems that incorporate innovations in their objectives, organization, and practices adapted to changing production contexts (Martin et al. 2013). While Thornton et al. (2018) highlighted that the scale of change required to meet the sustainable development goals, including those of no poverty, zero hunger, and the urgent action needed to address climate change, will necessitate the transformation of local and global food systems. Thus the main aim of this chapter is to develop resilient farming systems in Gantsi District and Bobirwa and Boteti sub-districts of Botswana. The chapter is premised on the following specific objectives: to evaluate current farming systems in the three districts and identify climate-smart practices within each district; identify alternative livelihood options (off-farm) in the catchment areas; identify indigenous knowledge of agricultural practices (ethno-veterinary and ethno-botanical) to cope with effects of climate change and co-identify (farmers and extension workers); and recommend potential climate-smart agricultural practices. The Republic of Botswana is a landlocked country with an area of 582,000 km2 (Fig. 1). The climate is semi-arid to arid with high spatial rainfall variability. Rainfall decreases and temperature range increases westward and southward, varying from 650 mm per annum in the east to 230 mm in the south-west.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Botswana location and the three study districts

Agriculture plays a significant role in the lives of rural communities where it provides food and income and employs a majority of the rural inhabitants. However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2007) has identified the country as vulnerable to climate change and variability, probably due to its low adaptive capacity and sensitivity to many of the projected changes. Therefore, it implies that with climate change, including high temperatures and frequent droughts conditions for agriculture, will worsen. For example, models have predicted that parts of Botswana will become much drier and hotter (IPCC 2001). Currently, there are projected statistically significant decreases in mean rainfall and increases in dry-spell length at each global temperature level (Nkemelang et al. 2018). IPCC special report on global warming of 1.5°C underlined that areas in the south-western region, especially in South Africa and parts of Namibia and Botswana, are expected to experience the largest increases in temperature (Engelbrecht et al. 2015; Maúre et al. 2018).

Gantsi District and Bobirwa and Boteti Sub-Districts

Although the three areas of interest are very similar in their vulnerability to climate change impact, they vary in terms of land area, population, and physiography. Gantsi District has mostly sandy, infertile soils with low water holding capacity. Farming is the dominant economic activity in the district with pastoral being most dominant although of recent there has been an increase in irrigated agriculture. Bobirwa sub-district has relatively fertile soils although some. Integrated pastoral and arable rainfed farming are major activities in the district. Boteti sub-district practices both arable and pastoral farming.

A farming system model by Collinson (1987) was used to aid with farming systems diagnosis of the three districts (Fig. 2). In the model, there are visible and observable aspects, which are represented by solid boxes, and those that are deduced from the description of these aspects and verified by a discussion with farmers and extension officers, represented by perforated boxes.

Fig. 2
figure 2

Farming system diagnosis by Collinson (1987)

Information on current farming systems in each district was acquired through key informants, farmers, and extension workers. Two extension areas were randomly selected in each district.

  1. (i)

    Gantsi District (Charles Hill, Ncojane)

  2. (ii)

    Boteti sub-district (Mosu, Moremaoto)

  3. (iii)

    Bobirwa sub-district (Bobonong, Gobojango)

Multistage sampling technique was used to determine the ideal sample size of participants in the focus group discussion (FGD) using Krecjie and Morgan (1970) formula. The multistage sampling process was conducted with the assistance of extension areas workers who provided facilitators with the number of active farmers in their catchment. Triangulation was applied where specific information was needed. A SWOT analysis was used to evaluate current farming systems, their strengths (resilient to climate change and droughts), and weakness (vulnerability to climate change and droughts).

The sharing of ideas (experience) among farmers and extension workers allowed them to evaluate the shared experience and seek more solutions to the prevailing livestock and crop production challenges and CSA practices in their respective extension areas. The list of proposed CSA options was discussed with participating farmers to ensure a common understanding was reached between them, facilitators and extension workers. During the discussion, farmers were encouraged to come up with additional practices especially those relating to indigenous knowledge practices (ethno-botanical and veterinary practices). At the end, ranking of the proposed CSA practices was done according to Khatri-Chhetri et al. (2017).

The discussion of the predetermined options was designed into a participatory action plan that addressed the resources needed for implementation of the ranked CSA potential practices. The action plan and the developed activity plan was a step-by-step process that helped these groups of farmers together with their extension workers and facilitators to design and deliver solutions to address proposed climate-smart agricultural practices. Farmers ranked potential CSA practices for developing climate-resilient farming systems and together with extension workers developed their implementation guidelines. Figure 3 is a summary of the methods that were used to collect data needed to co-develop climate-smart resilient farming systems across the study areas.

Fig. 3
figure 3

Flow of methods used in developing the farming systems

Facilitators used a stated preference method to analyze the farmers’ preference of CSA practices. In the stated preference method, participating farmers were asked about their preferences in a list of practices (Khatri-Chhetri et al. 2017).

Current Farming Systems in Gantsi District and Bobirwa and Boteti Sub-Districts of Botswana

Table 1 displays CSA practices currently found in the three districts. Such practices can be divided into crop and livestock related. Crop technologies that were common to all areas included fodder production and intercropping, whereas disease control and public health as well as ethno-veterinary practices were the only two livestock practices that cut across the three districts. Fodder production included planting of cowpea, lablab, maize, melons, forage sorghum, napier grass, and soybean. Cowpea and maize were not specifically planted as fodder, but their stover is normally fed to livestock after harvesting. Intercropping involves planting of rows of cereals such as maize, sorghum, and millet alternating with legumes such as cowpeas, lablab, and soybean and is part of integrated pest management as it provides conducive environment for natural enemies (Obopile et al. 2018) and also in maintaining soil fertility through biological nitrogen fixation (Pule-Meulenberg et al. 2018).

Table 1 CSA practices currently found in the Gantsi District and Bobirwa and Boteti sub-districts

Current farming systems in Gantsi District is predominantly livestock farming as observed from the large number of cattle posts (livestock holdings) (Fig. 4). The rearing system is free ranging based on rainfed natural pastures. This resource (natural pastures) is prone to droughts and overgrazing leading to a large number of livestock mortalities.

Fig. 4
figure 4

Spatial distribution of current farming systems in Gantsi District

As an adaptation move, farmers are moving toward some integrated crop-livestock systems with production of fodder crops, while some large commercial cattle ranchers use parts of their farms for diversifying into vegetable production. Smallholder farmers are also practicing small-scale irrigated gardens. Maize and cowpeas are the main rainfed arable crops in the area, and because of low drought tolerant of maize, yields are low in most years (Fig. 5). Minimum tillage is practiced and pioneered as a conservation agriculture (CA) in the district. However, due to the sandy nature of the soil, farmers complained of the disappearance of planting pits/basins, making their construction a laborious task that has to be repeated every year.

Fig. 5
figure 5

Current farming systems for crops and livestock in Groote Laagte extension area (Gantsi)

Boteti sub-district just like Gantsi District is a predominantly cattle-rearing area although has more rainfed arable farming. Figure 6 shows the spatial distribution of land uses in the sub-district. The main crops grown are maize, cowpeas, sorghum, and millet; the latter two being drought-tolerant crops, whose limitation is susceptibility to bird damage. Of recent, crop damage by wildlife especially elephants have increased in the sub-district.

Fig. 6
figure 6

Spatial distribution of current farming systems in Boteti district

Figure 7 displays current farming systems for crops and livestock in Letlhakane extension area of Boteti sub-district. In order to minimize drought impacts on both livestock and crops, it is imperative to increase the number of people that practice climate-smart agriculture technologies such as conservation agriculture, fodder production, and the use of drought-tolerant germplasm.

Fig. 7
figure 7

Current farming systems for crops and livestock in Letlhakane extension area (Boteti)

Of the three districts, in terms of both physiography and farming systems, Boteti lies at the transitional zone between Gantsi and Bobirwa in having some aspects of sandy predominant in Gantsi but also having the more fine-textured fertile soils found in Bobirwa. Similar to Gantsi District, livestock production is dominant in the Boteti sub-district. In Boteti sub-district, rainfed arable agriculture comprising sorghum, millet, maize, and cowpeas are among the major crops grown similar to Bobirwa.

Alternative Livelihoods in Gantsi District and Bobirwa and Boteti Sub-Districts

Table 2 shows alternative livelihoods outside the agricultural sector. It is evident that Gantsi District had many more alternative livelihood activities compared to the two sub-districts of Bobirwa and Boteti. This is probably due to the fact that Gantsi township is more urban compared to the villages of Bobonong and Letlhakane, which are the sub-district headquarters for Bobirwa and Boteti sub-district, respectively. In each of the three study areas, livelihood activities were varied as shown in Table 2. The common activities that cut across the three districts included employment through the Ipelegeng program (a Government of Botswana poverty alleviation scheme), sale of veld product, running of tuckshops, domestic work (being a maid), taxi services, sale of traditional brews, and catering services.

Table 2 Alternative livelihoods for Gantsi District and Bobirwa and Boteti Sub-Districts

The types of veld products sold are area specific although there are some common ones. For example, they include the morama bean (Tylosema esculentum), mongoose seed (Bauhinia petersiana), and wild berries such as Grewia flava. In Bobirwa, some of the veld products being sold are the mopane worm (Imbrasia belina), fruit of baobab (Adansonia digitata) tree, marula (Sclerocarya birrea) fruits, monkey orange, Grewia flava berries, Vangueria infausta fruits, Mimusops zeyheri, and wild vegetables such as Cleome gynandra, Amaranthus spp., and wild okra. For the Boteti sub-district, veld products include the harvesting of the water lily which is as a condiment for meat and sale of indigenous vegetables as described for Bobirwa and wild fruits as baobab (Adansonia digitata) and marula (Sclerocarya birrea). The sale of firewood and handicrafts was also common among the study areas, the difference being the type of species that is being sold.

It is noteworthy that veld products are dependent on climate because during prolonged droughts when crops fail and livestock die, wild plants are equally affected; hence such products go off the markets. This situation is also true for traditional brews that are either made from mainly sorghum or wild fruits. During drought years, they would also not be available. This scenario shows the extent to which smallholder farmers are exposed to the effects of climate change, hence the need to adopt climate-smart technologies, on and off farm.

The recurring droughts leading to asset losses have driven communities in these three districts to develop some alternative livelihoods strategies for coping with drought challenges. Nevertheless, these alternative livelihoods strategies developed to cope with natural droughts are unlikely to match the severity and frequency of climate change-induced droughts because of their short-term nature (Table 2), hence the need for coming up with CSA technologies by Government and other stakeholders. However, the adoption of these CSA technologies has not been promising due to among other obstacles, weaknesses as highlighted in Table 3. These weaknesses or malalignment of the current CSA technologies used in the districts or their implementation may be due to that they were never meant for farming systems and cultures found in the three districts, therefore could have been adapted for these systems before implementation. Mwongera et al. (2017) noted that approaches that aim to identify and prioritize locally appropriate climate-smart agriculture technologies will need to address the context-specific multidimensional complexity in agricultural systems.

Table 3 SWOT analysis of current CSA farming practices in Gantsi District and Bobirwa and Boteti sub-districts

Therefore, to improve the adoption of CSA technologies, there is need for co-development of technologies with farmers and extension workers at the local level. Through participatory approaches, farmers ranked various CSA interventions. The examples in Table 4 below shows that preferences vary at local extension levels within a district and also between districts, highlighting the importance of considering local context and dynamics of farming systems when designing CSA practices and interventions (Tables 4–9). Khatri-Chhetri et al. (2017) noted that farmers’ priorities for CSA technologies are linked with prevailing climatic condition of particular location , socio-economic characteristics of farmers, and their willingness to pay for available technologies .

Table 4 Indigenous (ethno-veterinary) practices in the Gantsi, Bobirwa, and Boteti

Indigenous Knowledge of Agricultural Practices in Gantsi District and Bobirwa and Boteti Sub-Districts

Farmers across the three districts indicated that they had indigenous agricultural practices pertaining to production of livestock and crops (Tables 4 and 5). Table 4 shows ethno-veterinary practices across the three districts. A number of practices such as the use of Senna italica to treat calf paratyphoid, treatment of eye infection in livestock using sugar and/or branding around the infected eye, treatment of poultry diseases such as Newcastle and coccidiosis using Aloe spp., and the use of dried up and bleached millipede carcass for eye infections in livestock were found in all the study areas. It is noteworthy that about a third of the practices are plant based. Consequently, prolonged droughts caused by climate change will affect them, hence the need to intentionally conserve wild plants. Other practices are based on plant products such as charcoal, wood ash, and smoke.

Table 5 Indigenous (ethno-botanical) practices for crops in Gantsi District and Bobirwa and Boteti sub-districts

Table 5 displays the ethno-botanical practices found in the three districts. The use of a mixture of tobacco, chillis, garlic, onions, and soap or a combination of any two with liquid soap is common among the three districts for the control of aphids (Aphis craccivora), red spider mites (Tetranychus urticae), and fungi. The digging of trenches around arable fields for control against corn cricket (Acanthoplus discoidalis) and the traditional magical powers to protect fields against pest were common in the Gantsi District and Bobirwa sub-districts. The use of chilli blocks to scare away elephants where crushed chillis and mixed with cow dung, dried, and burnt was practiced in the Bobirwa and Boteti sub-districts. Much like with indigenous practices for livestock, about a third of the practices are plant based. Other practices such as digging of trenches to control corn cricket, animal snares, scare crows, use of reflectors to scare away elephants, and other can be referred to as physical.

It is interesting that out of the list of indigenous practices for both crops and livestock, none deal directly with increasing production but are all for the protection of pests and diseases. Furthermore, many of the practices are plant based and therefore are equally affected by the harsh effects of climate change.

Potential Climate-Smart Agricultural Practices Identified by Farmers and Extension Workers

When designing CSA implementation strategies at farm level, one must consider adaptation options that are well evaluated and prioritized by local farmers in relation to prominent climatic risks in that location (Khatri-Chhetri et al. (2017); FAO 2012). Table 6 is a compilation of how farmers in the three districts ranked CSA practices according to their preferences. At each district, at extension area level, through focus group discussions, farmers came up with a list of CSA practices that existed or was perceived to be of importance for their area. The list was presented to extension workers for validation and in many instances, extension workers added more practices to the list. Only two interventions were highly ranked across the three districts, namely, fodder production and vaccination calendar adjustment. The production of fodder is important because without good-quality animal feed, it would be difficult to have adaptation with mitigation co-benefits of reduced greenhouse gases (Herrero et al. 2013). It has been documented that one of the consequences of climate change is increased incidences of disease (Moonga and Chitambo 2010). Adjusting livestock vaccination calendar is therefore relevant and important to control disease and as seasons seem to have shifted, hence the need to vaccinate timeously. Out of the three districts, Gantsi has the most uniform physiography, for example, its soils are predominantly sandy (arenosols). Furthermore, livestock production is very important, with one of the highest livestock populations in Botswana. This scenario can explain the uniform agreement in ranking of the CSA interventions (Table 7).

Table 6 Ranking of CSA practices in the Gantsi District and Bobirwa and Boteti sub-districts
Table 7 Implementation plan for fodder production

Due to centuries of drought exposure, smallholder farming systems in the three districts have developed some level of resilience to natural droughts. Nevertheless, the frequent and severe climate change-induced droughts are beyond the coping capacity of these systems, hence the need to climate proof them through appropriate climate-smart agriculture practices. Effective adoption of climate-smart agriculture requires active participation by farmers not only in identifying constraints to their production but also in developing CSA practices for addressing the identified challenges. This approach requires hybridization of indigenous knowledge with technology. Resilient farming systems lead to sustainable livelihoods, thus, the need for an appreciation of smallholder livelihoods as the anchor on which to build them on. Successful CSA adoption requires co-development of implementation plans by farmers and extension workers.