The Lake Ngami Conservation Trust (LNCT) has finally launched a locally manufactured charcoal produced from the abundant dead acacia trees along the lake. The project is funded through the United Nations Development Programme‘s Ngamiland Sustainable Land Management project (UNDP-NSLM.)
The Trust’s manager, Galefele Maokeng said that the production started this month since stopping in November 2017, pending the completion of Environmental impact Assessment (EIA) study. Maokeng said government has since granted them a temporary waiver to commence production.
Maokeng noted that the charcoal is made from acacia trees resident along the lake adding that the product is of high quality as it has calorific value of 33000-35000 KJ/Kg. Maokeng added that Lake Ngami Charcoal has been tested both in South Africa and Namibia and has proved to be amongst the best. Maokeng explained that once production reach full throttle they will export to Namibia and other potential markets. The Trust is also in talks with major retailers in Maun with the aim of starting to supply them in February next year.
He explained that currently 10 young people from Sehitwa have been engaged in the production, six of whom are based at a camp at lake while four are involved in the manufacturing of charcoal kilns. “We have engaged four of them they are supplying us with the kilns and we hope more are going to be needed as production increases,” he said. He said they expect to increase the total number to 100 when the operation is fully operational as charcoal production as a labour-intensive process.
He further revealed that the community will also have a role to play, specifically by collecting and selling firewood to the project. Other community members will be sub-contracted to supply the Trust with finished charcoal. Training in charcoal production will be offered to those who are interested.
Maokeng said project does not pose any deforestation challenges as they merely cut down dead wood along the lake. “This means we have plenty of dead acacia wood to harvest for our production. These dead trees were suffocated and sumberged by lake Floods and are readily available. ,” he said. NSLM coordinator, Innocent Magole explained that there is about a thousand trees per hactare along lake Ngami adding thus at a harvesting rate of 100 tonnes per month can go over 600 years withiut natural regeneration.
Magole told the gathering that UNDP-NSLM supported LNCT through bench marking trip to Namibia to observe charcoal production. Then, NSLM facilitated NAM-Barbeque products, a Namibian charcoal producing company to come to Botswana and train members of LNCT in charcoal production. For his part the Trust’s acting board chairperson, Gabriel Kasondoro said that the Trust used to benefit from fishing but due to challenges that include the receding and drying up of the lake they had to explore other alternatives.
He expressed hope that the charcoal production project will be able to absorb as many people as possible in a similar way the fishing activities did. He said the Trust is concerned about lack of employment opportunities and high levels of poverty in the area. “We are doing this project to hire more people and reduce poverty and in this way we will be complementing the government effort of creating employment for Batswana.” Kasondoro pleaded with Batswana to support their product by buying it instead of the imported charcoal.
This century is always looking at improving new super high speed technology to make life easier. On the other hand, beckoning as an emerging fierce reversal force to equally match or dominate this life enhancing super new tech, comes swift human adversaries which seem to have come to make living on earth even more difficult.
The recent discovery of a pandemic, Covid-19, which moves at a pace of unimaginable and unpredictable proportions; locking people inside homes and barring human interactions with its dreaded death threat, is currently being felt.
Member of Parliament for Kanye North, Thapelo Letsholo has cautioned Government against excessive borrowing and poorly managed debt levels.
He was speaking in Parliament on Tuesday delivering Parliament’s Finance Committee report after assessing a motion that sought to raise Government Bond program ceiling to P30 billion, a big jump from the initial P15 Billion.
Government Investment Account (GIA) which forms part of the Pula fund has been significantly drawn down to finance Botswana’s budget deficits since 2008/09 Global financial crises.
The 2009 global economic recession triggered the collapse of financial markets in the United States, sending waves of shock across world economies, eroding business sentiment, and causing financiers of trade to excise heightened caution and hold onto their cash.
The ripple effects of this economic catastrophe were mostly felt by low to middle income resource based economies, amplifying their vulnerability to external shocks. The diamond industry which forms the gist of Botswana’s economic make up collapsed to zero trade levels across the entire value chain.
The Upstream, where Botswana gathers much of its diamond revenue was adversely impacted by muted demand in the Midstream. The situation was exacerbated by zero appetite of polished goods by jewelry manufacturers and retail outlets due to lowered tail end consumer demand.
This resulted in sharp decline of Government revenue, ballooned budget deficits and suspension of some developmental projects. To finance the deficit and some prioritized national development projects, government had to dip into cash balances, foreign reserves and borrow both externally and locally.
Much of drawing was from Government Investment Account as opposed to drawing from foreign reserve component of the Pula Fund; the latter was spared as a fiscal buffer for the worst rainy days.
Consequently this resulted in significant decline in funds held in the Government Investment Account (GIA). The account serves as Government’s main savings depository and fund for national policy objectives.
However as the world emerged from the 2009 recession government revenue graph picked up to pre recession levels before going down again around 2016/17 owing to challenges in the diamond industry.
Due to a number of budget surpluses from 2012/13 financial year the Government Investment Account started expanding back to P30 billion levels before a series of budget deficits in the National Development Plan 11 pushed it back to decline a decline wave.
When the National Development Plan 11 commenced three (3) financial years ago, government announced that the first half of the NDP would run at budget deficits.
This as explained by Minister of Finance in 2017 would be occasioned by decline in diamond revenue mainly due to government forfeiting some of its dividend from Debswana to fund mine expansion projects.
Cumulatively since 2017/18 to 2019/20 financial year the budget deficit totaled to over P16 billion, of which was financed by both external and domestic borrowing and drawing down from government cash balances. Drawing down from government cash balances meant significant withdrawals from the Government Investment Account.
The Government Investment Account (GIA) was established in accordance with Section 35 of the Bank of Botswana Act Cap. 55:01. The Account represents Government’s share of the Botswana‘s foreign exchange reserves, its investment and management strategies are aligned to the Bank of Botswana’s foreign exchange reserves management and investment guidelines.
Government Investment Account, comprises of Pula denominated deposits at the Bank of Botswana and held in the Pula Fund, which is the long-term investment tranche of the foreign exchange reserves.
In June 2017 while answering a question from Bogolo Kenewendo, the then Minister of Finance & Economic Development Kenneth Mathambo told parliament that as of June 30, 2017, the total assets in the Pula Fund was P56.818 billion, of which the balance in the GIA was P30.832 billion.
Kenewendo was still a back bench specially elected Member of Parliament before ascending to cabinet post in 2018. Last week Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, when presenting a motion to raise government local borrowing ceiling from P15 billion to P30 Billion told parliament that as of December 2019 Government Investment Account amounted to P18.3 billion.
Dr Matsheka further told parliament that prior to financial crisis of 2008/9 the account amounted to P30.5 billion (41 % of GDP) in December of 2008 while as at December 2019 it stood at P18.3 billion (only 9 % of GDP) mirroring a total decline by P11 billion in the entire 11 years.
Back in 2017 Parliament was also told that the Government Investment Account may be drawn-down or added to, in line with actuations in the Government’s expenditure and revenue outturns. “This is intended to provide the Government with appropriate funds to execute its functions and responsibilities effectively and efficiently” said Mathambo, then Minister of Finance.
Acknowledging the need to draw down from GIA no more, current Minister of Finance Dr Matsheka said “It is under this background that it would be advisable to avoid excessive draw down from this account to preserve it as a financial buffer”
He further cautioned “The danger with substantially reduced financial buffers is that when an economic shock occurs or a disaster descends upon us and adversely affects our economy it becomes very difficult for the country to manage such a shock”