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Panda farmers decry exclusion from SEZ benefits

STAFF WRITER
On the ground: Manake and Molebatsi at Pandamatenga farms
Farmers in the Pandamatenga area have cried foul over the government’s decision to exclude them from enjoying the financial benefits that are on offer for investors who have been targeted for the soon-to-be established Special Economic Zones (SEZ).

SEZ licensed farmers operating in Pandamatenga will benefit from financial incentives that include five percent reduced corporate tax, zero-rated VAT on raw materials, duty-free imports of specialist plant machinery, favourable transfer duty and full repatriation of capital. They will also enjoy fast-tracked land allocations that included long term renewable leases of 99 years.

Speaking in Kasane recently during a consultative meeting organised by the assistant ministers of Agriculture Development and Food Security, Beauty Manake and Investment Trade and Industry, Molebatsi Molebatsi, the farmers complained that they will be excluded from the accrued benefits as they will not be registered as SEZ investors.

In consultations with SEZA last year, commercial farmers in Pandamatenga objected to the establishment of the SEZ and even wrote a letter of complaint to the Office of the President.

Pandamatenga has been zoned as an agropolis city meant to address Botswana’s long-standing problems of high food import bills, inadequate food supplies, high levels of poverty and youth unemployment.

The 96,500-hectare agro production zone comprises 44,500 hectares of existing commercial farming land, 12,000 hectares occupied by subsistence farmers and a proposed 40,000-hectare area targeted for the production of cereals, oilseeds, legumes, fruits and vegetables.

At least, 107.4ha in northern Pandamatenga has been reserved for processing of farm produce,

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mainly for export. The zone thus far comprises mainly light industrial land with supporting land for commercial, residential, civic and community use. The Pandamatenga SEZ will also include the 40,000ha Zambezi Integrated Agro-Commercial Development Project (ZIACDP), through which water will be pumped from the Chobe-Zambezi rivers into a 25,000ha greenfield farming area in Kazungula.

The farmers have raised concerns that they will not have access to facilities at the agro-Zambezi project as only 25,000ha will be irrigated.

“Those in designated SEZ areas like the agro-Zambezi will benefit from financial rebates and established irrigation infrastructure. Why don’t you treat us equally and allow all of us to enjoy these benefits?” one of the farmers asked.

In response, SEZA’s acting Director of Policy, Jayson Sechele explained that the agro-Zambezi project was not packaged to meet the water needs of the Pandamatenga area, but those of the targeted 25,000ha and the national needs.

Sechele also explained that farmers who have been operating in Pandamatenga will enjoy other benefits like support in obtaining visas, work and residence permits, development of cluster networks and 24-hour business support services.

“We have also established infrastructure developments such as stormwater drainage, road networks and animal proof fences that all farmers continue to enjoy,” he said.



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