Botswana has over the years managed to reduce the level of poverty, President Ian Khama told the inaugural Pitso ya go Nyeletsa Lehuma in Mahalapye yesterday.
President Khama said statistics also show that the number of people living below the poverty datum line in Botswana has reduced from 59 percent in 1985/86 to 30 percent in 2002/03.
The percentage is expected to drop even further at the end of this year, he said.
"We await the statistics of Central Statistics Office (CSO) expected at the end of the year to give us the current statistics on poverty," he added.
Giving an overview, the President said: "It is now 44 years since we attained independence. At the time of independence (in 1966) our country was then classified as one of the 10 poorest countries in the world, but Botswana is now classified as one of the middle-income countries.
So having any percentage of our people living below the poverty datum line is unacceptable."
The President, who has been criss-crossing the countryside in his meet-the-people endeavours, went on: "I have witnessed with my own eyes the poverty situation in some parts of the country.
I am sure each one of you has seen or even experienced the same conditions of poverty amongst people who have had to endure the indignity of living such a life.
We cannot turn a blind eye to this problem.
It is primarily because of these conditions and the importance of addressing the issues of poverty in our strive for high-income status that during my inaugural address of 2009 I resolved and committed my Government to two flagship programmes: Poverty eradication and economic diversification drive.
These two programmes are interrelated, poverty eradication is our goal and economic diversification drive is our primary means to achieve the goal of poverty eradication. We intend to use the purchasing power of the country, currently estimated to be over P20 billion per annum, to support the growth of entrepreneurship and innovation of local enterprises.
I also stated that poverty eradication would now be coordinated at the Office of the President (OP). It is driven by the Vice-President (Mompati Merafhe) assisted by Assistant Minister (Mokgweetsi) Masisi. Undoubtedly, poverty is a complex phenomenon and its eradication needs all stakeholders to be involved, including those affected in the development and implementation of solutions.
It is owing to this that I, and the Vice-President, including Assistant Minister Masisi, continue to consult with the nation through various forums. These Pitso consultations mark a pivotal milestone on our path to poverty eradication.
My expectations are that these two days will be used to consolidate the work that has been undertaken to date. Following this Pitso, there will be mini Dipitso at local level that will ensure that solutions to poverty eradication are contextualised at local level. It is only through these that effective optimisation can occur, which take into account the comparative advantages of each locality.
It is our position that the current spending on social intervention programmes, can be better restructured to effectively aid in the eradication of poverty. All social intervention programmes will from now on have to comply with the principles of poverty eradication; they will have to pass the tests of viability and sustainability; and they will have to pass the test of efficacy, efficiency, and effectiveness. We have to learn to do more with less, and we have to learn to optimise the usage of our resources.
If all our programmes aimed at poverty eradication meet the set stringent conditions, we will be able to win the war on poverty.
It is owing to this that we will continue reviewing all the current programmes to make them compliant with the new policy framework of poverty eradication.
Achieving this noble goal and enabling most of our citizens to create wealth is dependent on all of us being resolute in unity. United, as a Nation, we can eradicate poverty.
We must not be selfish and think only of ourselves when making demands, when there are others in our society who are less fortunate.
Our priority must be to target the standard of living of the poor and the jobless first, to bring about meaningful improvement in the collective well being of our nation.
I can inform you that a Backyard Garden initiative has been developed and is ready for trial and implementation in the next financial year. The backyard garden gives us hope in our fight against poverty due to the fact that 80 percent of the type of poverty experienced countrywide is that of lack of food.
More details will be made available to you during the presentations, and I trust you will all agree with my view that the backyard garden initiative is one of the viable platforms from which we can eradicate poverty.
Other packages being developed to augment the backyard garden include: Chicken farming, small stock, bee-keeping, cottage industries/handicrafts, backyard nurseries handymen/women (technical and agronomy), fisheries tourism processing (e.g. marotse, jam). It is, therefore, my pleasure to announce that in order to fast track our efforts towards poverty eradication, there will be from next April next provision in the national Budget in different ministries for those projects to start being implemented. Of course this will supplement other on-going efforts aimed at poverty eradication and hopefully the current economic downturn will not negatively affect all these efforts.
This initiative will go a long way in helping us achieve our goals and create employment for them. Also with effect from next month, all ministries will set aside one day per month to engage in community service that will also benefit the disadvantaged in our society.
Members of the Cabinet will join their officials in this undertaking. The launch of this initiative will be on November 5. I encourage all Batswana in our communities to do likewise to remind us of the plight of our fellow citizens living in poverty and joblessness to strive to work together as a nation to alleviate their predicament.
In conclusion, I appeal to those of our friends in the international community to provide whatever assistance is appropriate for this major programme of poverty eradication so as to enable us not only to meet and surpass the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG), but the Vision 2016 ideal, too. I also appeal to all of the key stakeholders and Batswana at large to introspect as to how best they believe they can contribute to this noble cause and act accordingly.
Standing together with a clear resolve we can succeed. We can all look back and say indeed it started on October 28, 2010 and you were there! A life of dignity is a life worth living and it is for this reason that I wish we all subscribe to having an open and honest discussion throughout this Pitso," the President told delegates.