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Experts shoot down proposed Agriculture budget

Publishing Date : 13 February, 2018

Author : REARABILWE RAMAPHANE

“My grandfather used to say that once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman and a preacher but every day, three times a day, you need a farmer’’ -  These are the words of one of the most celebrated global modern day famers, mentor and motivational speakers Brenda Schoepp.


These words were reiterated here in Botswana this week by different stakeholders when the paramount importance of Agriculture was discussed in relation to the 2018/19 Budget proposal which was presented to Parliament on Monday. Commentators have expressed concern in regard the little money allocated to Agriculture by government. This year Agriculture has only been allocated 3% of the overall budget, which is a far cry from the 10% ceiling, which the regional standard.


According to experts and agricultural advocates the lack of adequate budget to the agriculture sector subsequently means no infrastructure development to support the sector, no road networks to connect farm lands with market places, no development of innovative solutions in response to climate challenges facing the sector. 


At the First National Bank Botswana(FNBB) Budget Speech Review held at the GICC on Tuesday, just a day after Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Kenneth Matambo delivered the 2018/19 Budget Speech, various speakers made the same call – the money proposed for agriculture is way too little. 


The common denominator in various submissions by different speakers centred on the fact that agriculture has demonstrated before (through numerous scientific studies and economic research findings) that the sector is a potential remedy to Botswana’s economic diversification headache.


At  independence Agriculture contributed over 30 % to the country‘s Gross Domestic Product (GDP); but today the sector has been relegated to a mere 2 % replaced by  the lucrative Diamond  & Tourism industries . Pre-Independence Batswana lived out of pastoral and arable farming - today the sector is still the source of livelihood for many ordinary Batswana especially those in the rural settlements. The major concern is that on a national scale Botswana cannot feed her 2 million people. The country still imports over 50 % of almost every food commodity predominately from neighboring South Africa.


Minister Matambo announced a 1.34 billion pula budget proposal for the Ministry of Agriculture in the recurrent budget, this will not bring any significant improvement to the sector that supposedly should be feeding Batswana. This has been referred to as underfunding by Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) head of Agronomy, Lambani Obuseng.


Obuseng expressed his concern in the morning session of the budget review which tackled issues in the sectors of agriculture & energy. He said it was pivotal for the government to review the 3 % expenditure which is not enough to develop and resource agriculture sector.


It emerged at the session that Maputo declaration of the 2003 African Union Summit dictates that member states need to spend at least 10 % of their total budget on Agriculture. “Botswana has not been doing that for years since this agreement, it’s a cause for concern,” observed Obuseng. 


The Agronomist also said that Agriculture was a complex sector especially when a country wants to produce on a large scale and promote commercial farming. He said with unfavorable and evolving climate conditions Botswana must move with times and be innovative to realize significant contribution of this sector on the economy.


“Modern day farming technology requires capital and to produce on large scale requires capacity, and that is to say there has to be deliberate spending and will from government side to resource these requisites,” he said. Obuseng further observed that though government has tried with a number of initiatives in the past years to grow the agricultural sector, it continued to decline as a result of certain operational challenges that continue to besiege the sector.  Some of these challenges include but not limited to poor soil fertility, dependence on simple manual tools, low adoption levels of agricultural technology and poor infrastructure.


Adding to Obuseng’s views, Clover Botswana General Manager, Mike Joyner observed that the funds allocated to the agriculture sector were inadequate. “This 3 % is against a number of propositions adopted in different regional foras. The SADC strategy on agricultural development submitted that agro-processing was a key sector for development. You cannot develop agro procession with this kind of un-prioritized funding that leaves agriculture with the remains of the budget,” he said.
 


Renowned Beef mogul, Mr Clive Marshall shared on the challenges facing the beef sector such as low returns for cattle producers and lack of market access. He said for Batswana to venture into beef processing and get in feedlots operation in large numbers funds must be availed by the government.


In the main event of the FNBB Budget Review  staged in the evening, just before speakers from different sectors of the economy took the podium to dissect and interact on Budget speech, the  FNBB Chief Executive Officer, Steven Bogatsu took the stage and hit hard on what he termed lack of will from Government to develop the agriculture Sector . In his welcome remarks, Bogatsu sent a message to government enclave: “why do we still spend less on agriculture while the sector has proven beyond reasonable doubt to be able to create jobs?”


 Bogatsu further said it was irrational to continue spending money on importing agricultural produce year and year out while we can inject funds in developing our own sector and produce food. The FNBB CEO also touched on the beef industry, “why do we still operate Botswana Meat Commission in this model while it was making losses year and year out?” 


Bogatsu cited Botswana-De Beers relationship as a benchmark model, “we have a good relationship with multinational corporations like De Beers. Why can’t we adopt the same model for BMC and take the beef industry to the next level?”
Government was advised to seriously consider reviewing the budget proposed for agriculture.

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