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Botswana’s fertile farmland lying idle

PAULINE DIKUELO
About half of the allocated agricultural land is underutilised due to overregulation and non-alignment of commercial objectives to the agricultural sector, the minister of agriculture and food security, Patrick Ralotsia has revealed.

He said total unutilised land accounts for 45% of land available for agriculture, posing a threat to the country’s food security. He said there are vast areas of allocated agricultural land which is not wholly used or underutilised, adding that the ministry’s 2016/2017 performance report reflects that the total land available for arable agriculture is 920,000 hectares of which 420,000 is currently unutilised.

“The size of arable agricultural land belonging to Department of Agricultural Research (DAR) countrywide is 892.3 hectares in which about 143.3 hectares is undeveloped and not in use,” said Ralotsia. He said the department also has 26,865 hectares of land for livestock research in which 2,260 hectares is unused from 11 livestock research ranches.He said the current land allocation system especially tribal land areas encourages speculation and rent seeking behaviours, resulting in extensive idle and underutilised land and does not support access to land by the most productive farmers.

“Land allocation process although intended to generate fairness is fraught with red tape leases as leases are provided by the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services at

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minimal rates unrelated to market values,” he said, adding that these leases are then sublet at highly inflated rates to the detriment of the commercial sector.

However, the minister called upon farmers to start practising organic production in both farming and beef production, noting that the opportunities that exist are abound.

“Cattle production is still primarily free range and traceability system exists which will enable access of Botswana beef to lucrative markets adding that instead of competing with countries such as Brazil with a large number of cattle,” he said. He said local farmers should exploit organic beef as its comparative advantage adding that crop production also remains abound with organic farming opportunities whose efforts can be unlocked by low cost initiatives such as labelling requirements at retail level.

“Lucrative markets for organic products have rigid supply chain management requirements, which require quality agricultural extension services and intermediary services such as transport, packaging and storage,” he said. According to the Agriculture Expenditure Surveys of 2015, slightly over 50% of cattle are held by persons aged 60 years and above.



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