'Time up for weekend farmers!'

After President Ian Khama identified poverty eradication as one of two "flagship programmes" of his government in a speech last year, MASEGO RAMAKGATI* makes the point that poverty eradication should be an integral component of Botswana's development strategy

President Ian Khama launched Pitso Ya Nyeletso Lehuma in Mahalapye this week. It is interesting to note that poverty alleviation and reduction have been the primary goals of government over the years.

However, a shift occurred when President Khama identified Poverty Eradication and Economic Diversification Drive as the Government Flagship Programmes in his inaugural address last year.

To-date, Botswana has done relatively well in the alleviation of poverty. Statistics show that over the years, poverty has reduced significantly: 1985/86 (59 percent), 1993/94 (47 percent) and 2002/03 (30 percent). Indications are that the rate declined further to an estimated 23 percent in 2009.

These statistics, however, tend not to take into consideration the social interventions government has taken. 

Such interventions include relatively free education and health, provision of food in schools, programmes for orphans and destitute persons, the subsidised SHHA scheme and several subsidies in the agricultural sector.

To ensure that the country is on the path to poverty eradication, the government has developed a roadmap that guides its activities. Government is also in the process of finalising the backyard garden initiative and alternative packages for small and micro enterprises.

Similarly, Pitso Ya Go Nyeletsa Lehuma was planned for October 28-29, 2010 in Mahalapye.

Its goal was to engage key stakeholders, Batswana, in defining poverty, in the consolidation of projects and programmes aimed at eradicating poverty, and in mapping out steps out of poverty.

The policy shift from poverty alleviation and reduction to eradication requires changes in objectives, structures and processes of current government programmes to ensure alignment to the goal of eradication.

Reviews of current programmes have started and this is an ongoing process. It is our belief, as government, that we can achieve more with the resources currently made available in fighting poverty.

It is also our belief that by addressing head-on the issue of mindset change, which has often been a development hindrance, we can ensure that more of our people aspire for and achieve wealth.

Government intends to use the country's purchasing power, which is estimated at over P20 billion per annum, to support the growth of small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs).

In this regard, government has issued a Directive to all Ministries and Parastatals aimed at improving the competitiveness of SMMEs in the provision of goods and services. It is our fervent hope that the private sector will do the same.

On the issue of pricing, local companies will have preferential pricing margins within which they can compete with foreign companies.  A robust strategy will also be rolled out aimed at improving the quality of products and services of local companies. The strategy is still being developed by the Ministry of Trade and Industry and should be ready this year.

Among the key players in implementing the strategy will be LEA, CEDA, BOTEC, RIPCO and BOBS. The strategy will address issues related to value chain development, effective monitoring and evaluation of the programme, market access, technology efficiencies and funding.

Government has also identified inherent problems within some programmes and efforts are being made to strengthen institutional systems and ensure improvements, where necessary.

 We believe that macroeconomic and structural policies that encourage economic growth, employment creation and market development are essential for the poverty eradication strategy.

Government is considering possible ways to continue assisting Batswana who wish to take up farming for commercial purposes and ensure improved output. We continue to encourage Batswana, particularly the youth, to embark on various programmes that are in place, among them the Youth Grant, CEDA Young Farmers Fund and LEA training and incubation.

We believe that through effective training and education, funding options, availability of land and market access, the youth can play a critical role in poverty eradication. The idea is to make farming fulltime and more profitable. It should become a business. In this regard, the time for weekend farmers is over.

Our view is that though the programmes have not achieved the desired effect, some have, nevertheless, been successful in creating most of our top entrepreneurs. As Vice-President Mompati Merafhe succinctly puts it: "There have been winners and losers."

In a nutshell, a critical review and improvement of the previous and current programmes have been our guiding principle and we are very optimistic about the success of the current Government Flagship Programmes. We identify the needs and social problems of our people.

Therefore, our various programmes like ISPAAD are meant to address such problems.

 Our efforts to ensure poverty eradication and sustainable development will not be enough without attention to eliminating barriers that constrain any able-bodied citizen to benefit from a growing economy and contribute to that growth.
Regarding access to land, we endeavour to identify people who have shown interest to undertake certain

Projects and demonstrated their capacity to undertake such programmes. As Vice President Merafhe put it: "We don't throw good money for bad!"

Government is also committed to allocating land to serious farmers to increase output. In his State of the Nation Address of 2008, the President set the country a target of qualifying for high income status in about 10 years.

Subsequently, the President identified Poverty Eradication and Economic Diversification Drive as Government Flagship Programmes in his Inaugural Address of 2009. In essence, government has declared war on poverty.

As Merafhe aptly notes: "There is no tolerable level of poverty." This is what informs our position on this policy formulation. Poverty eradication is morally right.

"We cannot continue to live comfortably while some of our own people are pre-occupied with what their next meal (will) come from," says Merafhe. "In this regard, the government's effort to eradicate poverty is pivotal for securing the future of this country."

Therefore, we should not look at poverty eradication as a consequence of development but    as an essential component of any viable development strategy.

Our development strategy cannot be focused solely on growth. We should take into account likely distributional implications and be grounded in a solid understanding of who the poor are and why so many have difficulties in escaping from poverty.

We believe that entrepreneurship and multiple sources of income contribute to the movement out of poverty.

*Masego Ramakgati is Private Secretary to the Vice President


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