Monday, October 19, 2020

Should Batswana ‘graduate’ from the cattlepost?

In his address to the inaugural Botswana Stock Exchange listings conference, Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi, spoke about the economic virtue of “graduating” from the cattlepost to the stock exchange.

“In the coming decade, we all want to progress to a more prosperous, productive and knowledge-based Botswana that leaves no Motswana behind. Beyond graduating to high-income status, and from cattlepost to stock exchange, we are committed to achieving a society free of unemployment and absolute poverty,” Masisi said.

Should Batswana graduate from agriculture or should they modernise it? A World Bank report that assesses Botswana’s poverty says in explicit terms that this sector played a crucial role in the reduction of extreme poverty and inequality, helping make Botswana’s progress (in that regard) “among the world’s strongest in the second half of the 2000s”. This feat also made Botswana one of the top performers in Africa when measured by annual consumption distribution growth for the bottom 40 percentile.

“Agriculture was the main job growth sector between 2002/03 and 2009/10,” says the report that assessed Botswana’s poverty in that reference period.

Employment in the agricultural sector grew by 5.6 percentage points. The corresponding numbers are 4.9 percentage points for “other services,” 1.8 percentage points for the public sector, and 0.2 percentage points for the financial sector. The Bank says that it is not surprising that agriculture accounts for more than half the jobs in rural areas and contributes almost nothing in cities and towns. However, it notes that agricultural employment grew dramatically in urban villages where another major contributor to job growth has been the public sector. 

“Indeed, agriculture has been second-largest job-creating sector after the services industry,” the Bank says.

The African Development Bank has also noted the normative efficacy of agriculture in reducing poverty on the continent and recommended that from production to the markets, African agricultural and agribusiness systems need to be re-engineered, financed and upgraded so that they can become more productive. Agriculture is the main export revenue source for many African countries and the largest income generator for their populations. An estimated 70 percent of Africa’s population depends on agriculture for full-time employment, and many others rely on agriculture for part of their household income. About one billion people live in Africa and some 200 million of them live with food insecurity.

While water shortage is often cited as the major reason why Botswana cannot rely on agriculture to generate revenue, there is expert view to the contrary. Israeli consultants engaged by the government have stated that even with the little water it has, Botswana would actually be able to export food if that water was properly harnessed. Those consultants were basing their assessment on their own country’s experience. While water-stressed like Botswana, Israel harnesses its water well enough to be able to grow food for export purposes. Part of the water shortage in Botswana is a result of more than 50 percent of Batswana farmers who have been given water rights by the Water Apportionment Board in the Department of Water Affairs not using those rights.

 

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