The Minister of Agriculture, Christian DeGraaf, has strongly defended the government’s decision to increase the age limit for participating in the Young Farmers Fund from 35 to 40.
DeGraaf said that the increase is not “political propaganda but is government policy that will improve the standard of agriculture in the country”.
Speaking to Sunday Standard on Friday evening, DeGraaf said that last week the government took a decision to increase the age limit to include those young farmers who can qualify for the Young Farmers Fund.
He said that in kgotla meetings that he has been addressing since he became a minister, the public, especially farmers, requested that the age limit be increased to 40 years.
“Both the government and the public agreed that 40 years is a very reasonable limit because lots of people were left out,” said DeGraaf, adding that the public also approached President Khama about the age limit during his kgotla meetings throughout the country.
Khama, said DeGraaf, heard their cry.
He said that after consultations, a decision was then taken with the hope of increasing food security.
The minister revealed that over P77 million of the fund has so far been spent on various projects since it started.
He conceded that the country is hit by a serious shortage of food but is optimistic that farmers will manage to feed the nation.
DeGraaf said that those young farmers who qualify and receive the money are expected to quit their employment because the government wants them to concentrate fully on their projects.
He, however, warned them that no assistance would be extended to those farmers who abuse the funds.
The Acting Communication Manager of the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA), Masegonyana Madisa, said, “The decision to upscale the age limit for the Young Farmers Fund from 35 to 40 is a welcome development for CEDA.”
He said, as CEDA, they believe that government appreciates the success of this fund, which is intended to assist youth to venture into commercial agricultural projects.
He further said that since its inception in March 2007, many youth have benefited under the fund and added that eligibility will be based on the viability of the proposed project, which is standard with all CEDA financed projects.
He indicated that since March this year CEDA received about 5000 applications, approved 188 while 117 applications were rejected and 72 applications are still being processed.
An economist at the University of Botswana, Dr Tsheko, said he welcomes the idea, saying that this would improve food security.
Tsheko said that he does not believe that this was done for political mileage because “there is no government that can simply folds its arms and not come up with better programs that can improve agriculture”.