Delivering a keynote address at the Serowe Agricultural Show last week, President Mokgweetsi unveiled his Government’s big and ambitious commitment to the Agriculture sector.
He started by spelling out reforms that Government feels are needed ÔÇô not just in the sector itself but also in other related ones.
Existing policies will be beefed up. Beneficiaries of Government scheme will be made more accountable.
And output shall be a key determining factor when it comes to rewarding such beneficiaries.
He told his audience that his Government’s view is that Botswana Meat Commission is too important to fail. This, coming from the Head of state is exceedingly reassuring. As a newspaper, we have over the last few years been harping on the importance of BMC to an ordinary small farmer.
Our conviction on this point turned us into a caricature of those intent on getting BMC assets stripped.
The president’s remarks on BMC will go a long way in reaffirming the small farmers’ confidence that they will continue to have a role to play in the country’s agricultural sector for a foreseeable future.
From its inception BMC has been a portent symbol of what good can come from Government when there is focus and determination. Unfortunately in recent timers, the same BMC has now been used by doomsayers to prove their ideological world view that Government cannot efficiently run a successful business. Thankfully, with the president’s speech in Serowe that will change.
Having said that, we hasten to say that it is our fervent hope that this is not yet another false dawn.
When he arrived, former President Ian Khama put Agriculture at the top of his priorities.
It was however not long before he was distracted by misplaced politics.
Much more could have been done. But to give credit to former president, Agriculture had made discernible progress by the time he left. Mosesedi Farms, for example are on way to fully commercializing.
But there has to be more focus given to enhancing efficiencies. At Serowe, the president for the first time talked about Government investing in farming infrastructure. He made specific reference to roads, telecommunications and the internet. These announcements by the president should come as music to the ears of those already involved in agriculture but also to those who have had ambitions to enter the sector but found themselves kept at bay by the existing bottlenecks.
An absence of physical infrastructure linking the farms to the market represents a pervasive structural problem that literally undermines the sector’s potential.
Infrastructure, once in place as announced by the President is not only important to link producers with the market, such infrastructure is also critical in increasing efficiency, productivity and profitability of Agriculture.
Such infrastructure will cut down costs and improve efficiencies.
One of the reasons why many people are discouraged from taking up agriculture is the high investment required and also the low returns. The ratio is simply prohibitive because to reach most of the farms one needs specialized transport like heavy duty Four by Four cars. As the president said in Serowe, Agriculture has the potential to become the country’s economic mainstay.
In fact the sector was until minerals came on scene.
While the discovery of minerals was an unrivalled boon for Botswana, there were other negative effects, chief of which was the neglect of Agriculture as a key contributor to the economy.
At the height of minerals boom, Botswana could neglect Agriculture and still get away with it.
It is now clear from hard economic data that Botswana has moved a full circle.
As a general rule, the mining sector is on the decline while agriculture is on the ascendance.
While figures show a declining trend in mining as a proportion of the GDP, as an inverse to that, the same figures show an immense potential for other sectors, chiefly Agriculture and Tourism. Batswana are generally passionate about agriculture.
Government should use that innate passion as a building block to modernize the sector and bring it in line with the times.
If the speech by President Masisi in Serowe is anything to go by, Botswana is headed for an economic revolution.