Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Remarks at the Opening of the Agricultural Consultative Forum by H.E., the President of the Republic of Botswana Lt.Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama

source: Republic of Botswana (21/5/10) TAUTONA TIMES for May 2010
The Electronic Press Circular of the Office of the President
"Democracy, Development, Dignity, Discipline and Delivery"


[Salutations]...Ladies and Gentleman

I am pleased to once again join you to discuss and share with you our aspirations and expectations as a Government on how to improve agricultural production in our country. In 2008 I attended a similar occasion and I commend the Ministry for holding yet another, this time termed Agricultural Pitso.

I am informed that the theme of your PITSO is: "Rethinking Agricultural Development: Focusing on Breakthrough Areas". I am further informed that breakthrough areas are farming enterprises in which the Ministry wants to make a significant impact on, in the short to medium term. These are dairy, horticulture, cereal and small stock production as well as bee keeping. In my view, therefore, this theme is most appropriate and relevant. It comes at a time when we need to revive the agricultural sector to enable it to play a meaningful role in the total development of our economy.

Although agriculture contributes about only 2.9% to the GDP, the sector remains critical for sustainable growth and economic development as it provides food and offers employment to many families, especially in rural areas.

It is against this background that my Government has identified the sector as the main driver of poverty eradication. In this connection we must support the agriculture sector and ensure that our people have enough food and even export surplus. I am however disturbed by the amount of agricultural land which is lying uncultivated yet as a country we import over 60% of most agricultural products., In this regard government is working with relevant local authorities to repossess unutilised agricultural land and allocate it to serious farmers, that is, small, medium and large enterprises.

We cannot feed this nation from idle land. We have to invest in agriculture and manage our farming businesses to maximise profits. In the same vein unutilised government farms will be leased out to serious farmers both locally and externally. Plans are at an advanced stage to lease out 99, 000 hectares of land in Banyana farm for livestock production.

The Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD) that was introduced in July 2008 resulted in over two fold in cereal yields. I am informed that this trend is likely to continue this season as about 288,000 hectares have been cultivated and an estimated cereal production of 83,000 metric tonnes is expected. This is about three fold of the production figures before the introduction of the ISPAAD Programme, which were around 30 000 metric tonnes in the past. However, the recent downpours may negatively affect the yield and quality of produce, especially in fields which were ploughed early in the season. I believe through ISPAAD more can still be achieved if farmers can rise to the occasion and be more committed. There are farmers who do not look after their ploughed fields and consequently attain low yields as a result of weeds and bird damage that could have been controlled if more effort was exerted. To this end, Government is committed to assist only those farmers who have shown commitment in managing their fields. I therefore call upon all arable farmer organisations to assist Government in weeding out non-farmers from the ISPAAD programme.

In addition to the ISPAAD Programme, Government introduced the Livestock Management and Infrastructure Development Programme (LIMID) primarily to assist resource poor farmers, with which you all are familiar. The programme has proved to be very popular with beneficiaries; however it needed to be reviewed to determine whether it was meeting the intended objectives and also to address allegations of possible abuse. Consequently, government suspended LIMID in November 2009 to allow the Ministry to the program with the aim of re-introducing it in a more refined and more helpful format. Government will deliberate on the review findings and recommendations shortly.

Our efforts to reduce the amount of goods and services we import as a country are already bearing fruit. Under this initiative schools bought for the first time, local agriculture produce such as watermelons and green mealies for school feeding programmes this season. In the same vein the Ministry of Local Government bought thousands of tonnes of grain from the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) for its various feeding programmes. Recently, the Ministry of Agriculture advised all Government Ministries and parastatals to buy fresh produce from the operating horticultural markets around the country. To further facilitate this, the Ministry of Agriculture is restricting the importation of agriculture produce which are available locally.

With regards to dairy farming, Government is aware of the high cost of inputs associated with establishment of a dairy enterprise. In this regard, dairy entrepreneurs are encouraged to grow fodder with assistance from ISPAAD to reduce the feed bill as it is feed which is critical to the sustenance of the dairy business. I am pleased to note that farmers in the Southern District and Pandamatenga, who have adopted modern technologies under NAMPAADD, are beginning to realise significant improvements in their yields. To strengthen our drive, the Ministry of Agriculture is now considering partnering with proven commercial farmers in a joint venture to better operationalise the NAMPAADD Production and Training Farms (PTF).

I am confident that the outcomes of this PITSO will translate into meaningful and implementable action that will drive the agricultural sector to prosperity and enhance the socioeconomic well being of our people.
With these few remarks, I wish you fruitful deliberations. I now declare this PITSO officially opened. I thank you for your attention.


Your Excellency, President Hifikepunye Pohamba, President of the Republic of Namibia, our Host and Chairman of this meeting, Your Majesty, King Mswati III, of the Kingdom of Swaziland, Your Excellencies Heads of State and Government of SACU Member Countries, Honourable Ministers, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Madam Executive Secretary of SACU, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

1. It is a privilege for me to address this inaugural meeting of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) Heads of State and Government. Allow me, Mr. Chairman, to start by thanking the Government and the People of the Republic of Namibia for the warm hospitality extended to me and my delegation. I also commend your Government for the excellent preparations and arrangements which have been put in place to ensure the success of this meeting and the centenary celebrations.

2. Mr. Chairman, we in Botswana take pride in having been an active member of SACU since its inception in 1910. As we celebrate one hundred years of SACU's existence, it is appropriate that we are meeting at the highest political level to re-affirm our commitment and give new impetus to those areas that need strategic leadership. This meeting is very important and should therefore be instutionalised to regularly provide political and strategic guidance to the organisation.

3. The theme for the centenary celebrations - "A Common Agenda towards Regional Integration in Southern Africa" could not have been more appropriate. This theme underscores the understanding that we stand to benefit more if we operated as a group than as individual countries.

4. This celebration affords us an opportunity to assess our performance in the past hundred years in order to determine whether or not our set objectives have been adequately accomplished. In this way, we will be able to chart a better future for generations to come.

5. Mr Chairman, if we are to effectively deliver on our mandate as SACU, we need to increase trade amongst ourselves and with the rest of the world with a view to diversifying and industrialising our economies.

6. For this reason, I am happy to note that work is being undertaken to develop a SACU wide Industrial Development Policy, which I hope will build synergies and ensure equitable industrialisation and trade amongst ourselves. My view is that this work must be accorded the urgency it deserves as it is long overdue.

7. As SACU Member States, we face common challenges of poverty, HIV/AIDS and unemployment, among others. In this regard, we need to work together to mitigate the effects of these challenges so that we improve the living standards of our people.

8. Mr. Chairman, Botswana like other SACU Members has been affected by rising food and oil prices as well as the global financial crisis which together negatively impacted on the performance of our economy. This impact was experienced through reduced demand and prices for our major export commodity, diamonds resulting in significant drop in government revenues. This situation has forced us to cut our diamond production levels leading to loss of jobs and economic opportunities for our country. This therefore calls for our resolve to work together more than ever before to effectively build resilient economies in our region so that we are able to withstand these kinds of crises and their ramifications in the future.

9. For this to happen, we should redirect the aspirations of SACU through the development of a new vision and mission. This exercise should entail setting up the institutional mechanisms of SACU such as National Bodies, Tariff Board and the Tribunal. In this respect, I am pleased to inform you that Botswana is at an advanced stage in establishing her National Body. It is my conviction that we also need to seriously explore the feasibility of extending the scope of SACU to include the New Generation Issues such as Investment, Trade in Services and Competition to name but a few. This is in view of the increasing importance of some of these areas to our economies.

10. In exploring avenues for deeper regional integration, we should be cognizant of the need to consolidate and implement our commitments as per the SACU 2002 Agreement. However, as we implement the ideals of SACU we must take into account our membership to and objectives of SADC as we move forward in our regional integration initiatives. This is because it is only through working together as a team in the wider SADC context that we can ensure smooth regional integration in Southern Africa.

11. Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, the need for the provision of requisite infrastructure for our regional integration cannot be over emphasised. It is in this light that we in Botswana strongly support the establishment of One Stop Border Posts such as the one to be established at Mamuno on the Trans-Kalahari road on the Botswana and Namibian border. Such a development will reduce transport time and costs and facilitate trade within the region and beyond. In this case, we need to modernise our customs administration through initiatives such as e-customs and e-passports for the benefit of our traders.

12. As we celebrate the centenary of SACU this year, addressing outstanding institutional issues and harmonising our policies should remain a priority for the agenda of the Council of Ministers. This will ensure the consolidation of SACU as a nucleus for deepening regional integration and provide the basis for our integration at the next level.

13. Furthermore, when we negotiate as SACU with other countries and international bodies, we ought to assess the benefits that are likely to accrue from such arrangements as well as the scope of such relationships.

14. Mr. Chairman, it should no longer be considered attractive to have to judge the success or otherwise of our Union on the basis of the size of the Revenue Shares from customs duties alone as there are other benefits to be explored. Hence-forth our citizens should rather be able to judge the success of SACU by the number of decent new job opportunities created as a result of deliberate pro-development regional policies and or by the number of business opportunities generated.

15. At its very best, SACU will have identified and equitably exploited complementaries in constituent Member States to optimise the use of scarce resources, do away with unnecessary duplications as well as limit unhealthy competition to a level where it may be possible to operate mega strategic regional industries in select sectors.

16. In conclusion, let us commend ourselves for having existed for one hundred years in spite of historical and other problems that have and continue to challenge our existence as a Union. Let us also note that our journey is a life time one and as such we should never tire in our efforts to maintain our solidarity for the benefit of our people and the region at large. I thank you.

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