In Southern Africa, Rain is Literally Money

Upon arriving in Botswana, our tour group learned that ‘pula’, the currency for Botswana, was also the Setswana word for ‘rain’.   During the rest of our time in southern Africa, rain – or the lack thereof, would play a huge part of the conversations about the economic future of both Botswana and Namibia.

The impact of water scarcity was apparent throughout our entire visit.  In our hotel rooms, we were encouraged to keep our showers under 6 minutes and low-water use toilets were commonplace.  Also, before our trip, we were encouraged by a native not to drink the tap water in Botswana due to the prevalence of bacteria in the lower levels of the reservoir (fortunately, Botswana experienced heavy rains prior to our visit).

The period of drought, related to El Niño, has significantly impacted the Batswana and Namibian economies.  Because both countries have large agricultural and pastoral sectors, the lack of rain has ravaged the ability for local farmers to produce goods.  In 2016, Botswana even declared the drought a state of disaster.  Also, in our discussions with leading Namibian economists, we learned that Namibia’s short-to-medium term economic future virtually hinges on whether or not there are sufficient rains in the next 12 months.

Pictured: Michelle Adelman at Langdon Organics

Despite the challenges the two countries face, government and private sector business leaders, are looking at regulations and innovative farming techniques to overcome the lack of rain in the region.  In Botswana, we met with Michelle Adelman at Langdon Organics.  Her hydroponic farm looks to spur agricultural development in Botswana by using 2% of the water used in typical farming.  The Namibian government currently imposes strict fines on businesses and households in Windhoek that use too much water.

The future of Botswana and Namibia are heavily dependent on short-term climate impacts.  However, the two countries are looking at ways to shore up their futures, even if ‘pula’ does not fall from the sky.

Jonathan Lovett

Jonathan Lovett is an MBA Candidate in the MIT Sloan Class of 2018. A former Research & Development engineer in Cincinnati, Ohio, Jonathan is interested in learning about sustainable development and innovation in large corporations. Outside of the classroom, Jonathan enjoys traveling, running and using his engineering background to improve family recipes.

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1 Comment

  1. MIchelle Adelman

    It’s interesting after 3 days without water or power to decide….which would you be willing to live without?? water? or electricity? It’s a hard choice, but having had to do it, I would definitely live without electricity than water!!

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