Botswana hopes to become self-sufficient in food production and cut its dependence on imports, President Ian Khama said at his inaugural State of the Nation address on Monday.
Opening the fifth session of the ninth Parliament, President Khama said through various initiatives under the Agricultural Hub, which has been set up to encourage greater commercialisation and sustainable diversification of the sector, food security is going to improve.
With growth rates averaging at least eight percent over the last two decades, Botswana, which imports over 80 percent of its food requirements, has been left at the mercy of the rising international food prices, rendering the agricultural sector's contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) almost negligible.
Khama said that among the key projects under the Hub is the second phase of the National Agricultural Master Plan for Arable Agriculture and Dairy Development (NAMPAADD).
"During the initial phases of this programme, four production and training farms were established, one for rain-fed farming, two for horticulture production and one for dairy farming.
" These farms are used for training in various aspects of commercial agricultural production, resulting in technology transfer to participating farmers. In addition, yield potentials of various crops under improved management practices have been established," he said.
Another major initiative under consideration, Khama said, is the Zambezi Agro-Commercial Integrated Development Project, whose objective is to develop agricultural production on a larger scale in northern Botswana.
"Progress on this project has been delayed pending finalisation of an agreement (among riparian states) to extract water from the Zambezi."Recently, we have also launched a new programme called Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD), to provide farmers with assistance in the form of seed, fertiliser, ploughing and planting, water and cluster fencing. Seed has already been distributed
To date over 1, 600 privately-owned tractors have been registered for the programme to augment the capacity of government tractors, an additional 60 of which are now on order for use in the coming months.
In an effort to facilitate tractor use, government has also waived the need to have special tractor licences for those who already have motor vehicle licences.
"I would like to stress that only those farmers who show genuine dedication to their projects will be given continued support.
"We are further prepared to lease state land to any investors who are truly committed and capable of putting the land to productive use. Government also intends to acquire and reserve underutilised Tribal Land for more productive agricultural usage," he said.
The President also said government had noted with concern the reluctance by the banks to offer financial assistance to farmers due to the high-risk nature of farming in Botswana.He said that they were in the process of devising schemes, which would help farmers access finance easily.
"To facilitate such loan access, and also minimise the risks caused by climatic variability and natural disasters, government is in the process of introducing a Botswana contributory agricultural insurance scheme.
" The CEDA Young Farmers Fund, which has been established to encourage the youth to enter commercial farming, has also now taken off. So far 151 projects have been assisted through the scheme, valued at P58 million," he added.