Friday, October 23, 2020

Youth Agric Fund a good idea, but….

The Youth Fund that government has set up at CEDA to finance agricultural projects undertaken by the youth is a welcome idea.
But we should be careful that through this scheme we do not set up our young people to fail.
By its very nature, agriculture requires availability of land.
But looking at the age bracket of the people eligible for funding, some are by law still below the required age to be able to acquire or own land in Botswana.
There is, therefore, still some harmonization of our laws and policies that have to be implemented before the fund can become fully functional.
What is important though is that the Ministries of Finance, Lands, Trade, Agriculture and that of Home Affairs will have to work very closely together to ensure that this important scheme succeeds.
For the new scheme to succeed there will have to be collaboration between these key ministries.
We hope the President will direct his ministers to take the scheme seriously to ensure its success and sustainability.
A lot depends on the success of this youth project.
It is common knowledge that unemployment in Botswana has reached unsustainable levels so much so that, if not addressed, it could easily turn into a national security threat.
The situation is particularly alarming when one considers the fact that it is the youth who are the hardest hit.
Botswana’s educational system, which over many years has emphasized blue collar jobs, is largely to blame for the dilemma in which we find ourselves.
The education system has been over many years producing thousands of young people who aspired to go to colleges while shunning other equally important avenues in the technical sectors.
Botswana still has acute shortages of technical personnel, artisans, engineers, draughtsman, architects, carpenters and bricklayers.
Yet, instead of the young people choosing careers in these fields, we still see a growing number of them opting for sectors that have already reached saturation.
Agriculture has become one of the chief victims of an educational system that emphasizes prospects of an office career over and above everything else.
It is only now that there seems to be a change of heart towards agriculture.
Although the soils of Botswana, together with the climate, are, to a large extent, unkind towards agriculture, the truth is that as a country we are operating way below our optimum capacity.
There is a lot of room for improvement in the agricultural sector and initiatives of seed capital as that offered by government through CEDA should be most welcome.
We want to point out that government should not dish out money to young people and then not assist them with the market.
We suggest that where it is found that the country is self sufficient in certain products, it should be made mandatory for retailers to exhaust local products before crossing the border.
If we do not help in creating the market for these people, then the latest initiative would be just as good as setting our young people to fail.
Many industries and companies in Botswana have, over the years, gone belly up simply because they did not enjoy sufficient protection from Botswana government authorities.
Countries everywhere protect their infant industries and factories.
The same should apply in Botswana.
Infant industries are in no position to compete with those from neighbouring South Africa, especially in light of subsidies and economies of scale offered by the South African government and market.
Botswana still imports a lot of food from South Africa, and depending on the extent of success of the new scheme, such heavy reliance on a foreign country could be reduced.
Government should be applauded for the idea. What is needed now is to operationalise the idea and to mitigate the negative effects of many pitfalls that lie ahead.
We hope that, in the coming months, there will be an open and constructive debate aimed at ensuring the success of this very important scheme.

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