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Chinese people answer President Khama’s call to eradicate poverty

To eradicate poverty, the President of Botswana, Ian Khama in his inaugural address of 2009 identified poverty eradication as one of his flagship programmes. The coordination thereof was subsequently housed in the Office of the President.

 Packages introduced were mostly agricultural. Such range from bee keeping, backyard gardening, poultry, backyard tree nursery and landscaping to cite a few. The ineluctable fact is that the government did not take up arms against poverty alone. Embassies, the private sector and other independent stakeholders were implored to help. The Chinese Embassy in Botswana and the Chinese people living in Botswana are among those that answered the appeal, subsequently playing a plausible role in the agricultural sector.
Status quo

The Ministry of Agriculture’s Division of Research and Statistics says, about 69 percent of the population benefits from agriculture –as farmers, labourers or both. However, due to regular and prolonged droughts, the Ministry states that both crops and livestock have not been performing as expected. Notwithstanding challenges exacerbated by climate change, “the Chinese government has contributed to this industry through training. A few of our officers have attended courses in Head Management, Poultry, and Equines. Some travelled to China to benchmark, observing modern technologies employed by China,” says the Ministry’s Chief Information and Public Relations Officer, Boikhutso Rabasha.

Nevertheless, she called on China as a first world country to share its modern technologies. She said China should demonstrate and sell farming inputs and equipment at reasonable prices. As she believes Botswana can learn a lot from China. As for the Chinese community, other than direct involvements in farming, Rabasha says some have added value in the industry by opening food outlets to extend the food value chain.

Chinese Farmers

 “It’s about time we diversified farming in Botswana. We cannot fight changing weather patterns or do anything about unpredictable rains, but we can look for and invest in plants that will cope. Which is why I decided to plant moringa trees,” says HuHe says this at a time when the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development in partnership with the United Nations are fearful that Botswana could fail to reach UN goals on poverty eradication. The Botswana Sustainable Development Goals Roadmap launched by the partners in February 2018 cites high income inequality and failure to achieve inclusive economic growth as factors that demoralise poverty eradication.

Hu Yan, is a Chinese moringa tree farmer based in the outskirts of Tlokweng village. He is one of the Chinese people that responded to the Presidential call, taking to farming regardless of the fact that Botswana is a semi-arid country with unpredictable rainfall. A challenge that continues to discourage local farmers, consequently also hampering the endeavour to end poverty. Hu has been living in Botswana since 1996, and so he now considers Botswana home, a home for which he is doing all he can to help attain food security as he is well aware of the struggle.

In October last year after partnering with property mogul Sayed Jamali, Hu planted 10 000 seedlings at the Tlokweng farm. After three months, most of the trees had grown to over three meters long.  “We packaged several product samples this past week and took them to the President for appreciation and approval,” says Hu. His plans are to produce tea, medicinal powder, green noodles, juice and moringa nuts, then sell them to local shops, eventually exporting the surplus.

 “I plan to export to China, America and Europe. This tree cannot grow in those countries because of freezing weather conditions,” he says, excited at the prospect of commencing production work in his factory in March 2018. Hu’s moringa tree farming project has not only created employment for Tlokweng villagers, it has also inspired local farmers to consider investing into the moringa tree farming business.

“The other day my boss brought moringa mageu. My workmates drank it all and would not stop boasting about how delicious it is. Now I see that a lot of moringa products can be manufactured and sold,” says Kelibileone Diomano, a supervisor at Hu’s moringa farm.
Diomano enjoyed agricultural subjects at school, and because of this job he has been doing for Hu, he is considering planting his own trees.

“I used to think that moringa was a useless thing women liked selling on the streets. I knew nothing about it until Mr Hu. Right now I see the potential this plant has to develop and influence my life for the better,” he expounds. Before investing into the Tlokweng project Hu Yan motivated citizens to farm moringa, but his Gamodubu and Oodi village efforts failed due to lack of commitment and support on the part of his Batswana partners.

“I constantly encourage locals to buy and plant these trees, some do yes. But some think two years is a long time to wait for the tree to fully mature. They overlook the fact that you plant once, and for twenty years or so after, all you do is reap the benefits,” says Hu, adding that, “after three months of planting even, the leaves can be harvested and used as herbs when cooking eggs or they can be boiled in hot water to make tea.”

 The benefits of investing in moringa he says are almost immediate. As a farmer Hu’s interests do not solely lie with moringa. At the Tlokweng farm, he and his partner are currently constructing a 1,800 square meters green house with the intention to plant vegetables, fruits, and flowers to sell to the local market. “This first one is only a pilot project, if it succeeds, we will construct three more. If this farm produces to capacity we will construct other green houses in Selibe Phikwe on the land President Khama promised us,” says Hu.

The green house under construction will be made of glass, custom made from China. In it, Hu plans to have a restaurant that will serve as a place of relaxation for town people, while students can visit and learn about traditional and modern ways of doing agriculture. To succeed, Hu says they could use financial support.

Chinese donors

 Chinese farmers like Hu have taken up farming at a time when citizen farmers are dispirited. Kabelo Thari, of the Botswana Workcamps Association (BWA) is of the view that, “the climate change phenomenon has worsened Botswana’s unfriendly weather conditions, causing agricultural output to fall drastically in recent years.”

Before the Chinese took to direct farming, Chinese nationals and the Chinese Embassy often donated farming machinery like tractors, and availed funds to citizen farmers to acquire farm land when needed and even went as far as facilitating agricultural skills transfer.
Thari’s association is a beneficiary of the Chinese Association of Botswana’s financial support for agricultural projects.

Other than financial support given to them to establish a horticulture farm in Oodi village, the association availed leadership development training workshops to BWA members. “Unfortunately, our horticulture project did not bear fruit as the main challenge was pests, mainly termites,” he explains. Despite the failure, Thari and his team have not given up on the project, but hope the Chinese will continue assisting them so they realise their goal.

According to Statistics on Agricultural Produce with South Africa (SAPSA), collected between January and December 2017 by Statistics Botswana (SB), the country imported fruit juices worth over BWP178 million, but only made BWP950, 703.00 in export of the same product to South Africa (SA). Should farmers like Thari excel, Botswana would spend less on imports and export more for a change.

Overall, Statistics Botswana says over 80 percent of Botswana’s fresh produce comes from SA therefore Chinese people, like the Botswana government, would love to see Botswana become food sustainable, hence their active commitment in the ‘fight against poverty inequality and exclusion’ within the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, focusing on the principle of “leaving no one behind.”

 Chinese advocates

While some like Hu Yan have taken to direct farming, others like Miles Nan who has also lived in Botswana for over two decades have established themselves as advocates of the development of the agricultural sector with the hope to see Botswana desist from importing food.

“Last week I went to Jiangsu Province in China. While there I visited a university and inquired on their ways of doing agriculture. I wanted technology on developing a new model of maize which does not need too much water and can survive Botswana’s climatic conditions. After consultations the professors there said they could help,” Miles reveals elated.

 Should his efforts bear fruit, Botswana will spend less money on maize imports. Last year alone according to Statistics Botswana’s SAPSA, the country spent BWP10, 296, 729. 87 on maize seeds imports from SA, in turn making only BWP294, 975. 00 from exports of the same to SA. The seeds where meant to ensure the country produces its own maize meal as it spends millions buying from SA. Last year BWP23, 775, 698.00 was spent on maize meal imports from SA, and only BWP6, 996, 754.00 was gained from exporting maize meal to SA.

 Miles is the Founding Director of a company called Mileage Air, a company he founded in 1999 driven by the desire to afford Botswana mechanical construction services. At present Mileage Air is the sole agent of GREE air-conditioning in Botswana.
In 2009, Miles invested into yet another passion, venturing into the media. His media company, other than running a newspaper, offers events management services.

One event that’s of interest to the discussion at hand is his Africa China Agricultural Cooperation and Development Summit. Through this event Miles advocates for the development of agricultural industries in Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt and Morocco.  “Our first event ever was held last year in Zambia after we failed to have it in Botswana. Subsequently, we held the second one in August last year in Zimbabwe. Over a hundred people attended. We had invited professors and entrepreneurs from China, and discussions centred on technological development and cooperation,” says Miles.

The first 2018 summit will be held in May in South Africa, to be followed by small seminars in Botswana and Namibia. Besides the 2030 Agenda, Miles’ actions are in tune with African countries’ committed to implement the African Union Agenda 2063, which is both a vision and a plan to build a more prosperous Africa in 50 years.

 “In August we will have similar events targeting Zambia and Kenya, and in October we do Egypt and Morocco,” elucidates the man who believes that to advance in the sector Botswana needs to capitalise on technology so that it can create models of plants that can survive the country’s temperatures. He said Botswana should design farm implements which suit its weather conditions.

Chinese networks

One manufacturer that is delighted by his custom-made equipment from China is Michael Hallam. “Our organic capacity before China was 5 000 tonnes per year. After China came on board the capacity of our granulation plant rose to 30 000 tonnes. Meaning 25 000 extra,” says Hallam, the Managing Director of the Organic Fertilizer Manufacturers Botswana company based in Mmamashia village. Hallam established his company in 2011, following his employment with a local feedlotting company.

“I saw mountains and mountains of manure lying around. Often I used the manure to grow crops that I then fed to animals. So naturally when I left my job I decided to put cow dung and poultry manure to good use rather than let it go to waste as it had been,” he says. His association with manure dates back to his childhood when he observed his grandfather use manure on his fields. The impact that organic fertiliser had on his grandfather’s plants never left him. At university in 1979 he wrote a thesis on the use of manure in cropping production.

When establishing his company in partnership with colleagues from Zimbabwe, Hallam saw an opportunity not only to live a dream, but one to encourage climate change mitigation. His desires would not have been realised without a Chinese company called Qingdao Seawinner Machinery and Engineering.  “The first machinery we acquired was from India, when using it we found out that it was not appropriate for our requirements,” shares Hallam.

Fortunately for him he had spent eighteen months in China a few years before. When he found himself in desperate need of custom-made machinery, he took advantage of the networks he had created and located a company that made him a happy man.  “I found Qingdao very professional. They shipped equipment and sent two engineers to come and assist with installing. We have not had issues with our machinery since installation in 2016,” he says.Hallam produces fertilizers like the Kalahari and the Neem eco organic by mixing manure with enriching products from India, Mexico, Europe and America.

The company invested in and installed a state of the art blending, coating and bagging plant with a capacity of 40 000 tons per annum, and a packing and sealing plant primarily for its organic products with a capacity of 20 000 tons per annum. With this massive investment and the granulating plant from china the company is well placed to cover all of Botswana’s fertilizer requirements and become a major exporter of products into the region.

Sixteen products are already registered in Botswana. Seven of these products are 100 percent organic. Hallam has already started selling his products in South Africa and Zimbabwe.   “As the only registered fertilizer manufacturing company in Botswana, we are removing a problem from the environment while creating direct and indirect employment. Cow dung releases methane into the sky,” he says. Adding that, people are now going back to using organic fertiliser instead of chemical fertilizers which have since contaminated ground and surface water resources, and increased salinity of soils, almost wiping out a reasonable population of bees crucial for pollination across the globe.

With the contribution of the Chinese, Botswana seems to be making strides in the right direction. The Botswana Government is looking to reduce its reliance on imports and therefore fully supports local developments. When fully realised, hunger will be a thing of the past in this upper middle income country.

The irony of this being that for every undernourished person there are now two overweight people in the world. This work was produced as a result of a grant provided by the Africa-China Reporting Project managed by the Journalism Department of the University of the Witwatersrand.

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DIS blasted for cruelty – UN report

26th July 2022
DIS BOSS: Magosi

Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.

Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.

She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”

Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.

On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.

“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.

One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.

The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”

The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.

Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.

Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.

The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.

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Stan Chart halts civil servants property loan facility

26th July 2022
Stan-Chart

Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.

This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.

He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.

Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”

He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.

Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.

“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.

In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”

In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.

He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.”  Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.

Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.

He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”

Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.

“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.

“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said.  Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.

Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.

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Botswana ranked 129 in female MPs representation

26th July 2022
Minister of Finance & Economic Development Peggy Serame

The Global Gender Gap Index, a report published by the World Economic Forum annually, has indicated that Botswana is among countries that fare badly when it comes to representation of women in legislative bodies.

The latest Global Gender Gap Index, published last week, benchmarks the current state and evolution of gender parity across four key dimensions (Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment). It is the longest-standing index which tracks progress towards closing these gaps over time since its inception in 2006.

This year, the Global Gender Gap Index benchmarked 146 countries. Of these, a subset of 102 countries have been represented in every edition of the index since 2006, further providing a large constant sample for time series analysis.

Botswana ranks number 66 overall (out of 146 countries), with good rankings in most of the pillars. Botswana ranks 1st in Health and Survival, 7th in the Economic Participation and Opportunity, 22nd in Educational Attainment, and 129th in Political Empowerment.

The Global Gender Gap Index measures scores on a 0 to 100 scale and scores can be interpreted as the distance covered towards parity (i.e. the percentage of the gender gap that has been closed). The cross-country comparisons aim to support the identification of the most effective policies to close gender gaps.

The Economic Participation and Opportunity sub-index contains three concepts: the participation gap, the remuneration gap and the advancement gap. The participation gap is captured using the difference between women and men in labour-force participation rates. The remuneration gap is captured through a hard data indicator (ratio of estimated female-to-male earned income) and a qualitative indicator gathered through the World Economic Forum’s annual Executive Opinion Survey (wage equality for similar work).

Finally, the gap between the advancement of women and men is captured through two hard data statistics (the ratio of women to men among legislators, senior officials and managers, and the ratio of women to men among technical and professional workers).

The Educational Attainment sub-index captures the gap between women’s and men’s current access to education through the enrolment ratios of women to men in primary-, secondary- and tertiary-level education. A longer-term view of the country’s ability to educate women and men in equal numbers is captured through the ratio of women’s literacy rate to men’s literacy rate.

Health and Survival sub-index provides an overview of the differences between women’s and men’s health using two indicators. The first is the sex ratio at birth, which aims specifically to capture the phenomenon of “missing women”, prevalent in countries with a strong son preference. Second, the index uses the gap between women’s and men’s healthy life expectancy.

This measure provides an estimate of the number of years that women and men can expect to live in good health by accounting for the years lost to violence, disease, malnutrition and other factors.
Political Empowerment sub-index measures the gap between men and women at the highest level of political decision-making through the ratio of women to men in ministerial positions and the ratio of women to men in parliamentary positions. In addition, the reported included the ratio of women to men in terms of years in executive office (prime minister or president) for the last 50 years.

In the last general elections, only three women won elections, compared to 54 males. The three women are; Nnaniki Makwinja (Lentsweletau-Mmopane), Talita Monnakgotla (Kgalagadi North), and Anna Mokgethi (Gaborone Bonnington North). Four women were elected through Specially Elected dispensation; Peggy Serame, Dr Unity Dow, Phildah Kereng and Beauty Manake. All female MPs — save Dow, who resigned — are members of the executive.

Overall, Botswana has 63 seats, all 57 elected by the electorates, and six elected by parliament. Early this year, Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) secretary general and Gaborone North MP, Mpho Balopi, successfully moved a motion in parliament calling for increment of elective seats from 57 to 61. Balopi contented that population growth demands the country respond by increasing the number of MPs.

In Africa, Botswana play second fiddle to countries like Rwanda, Namibia, South Africa, Burundi, and Zimbabwe who have better representation of women, with Rwanda being the only country with more than 50 percent of women in parliament.

The low number of women in parliament is attributed to Botswana’s current, electoral system, First-Past-the-Post. During the 9th parliament, then MP for Mahalapye East tabled a motion in parliament in which she sort to increase the number of Specially Elected MPs in parliament to augment female representation in the National Assembly.

The motion was opposed famously, by then Specially Elected MP, Botsalo Ntuane, who said the citizens were not in favour of such a move since it dilute democracy, instead suggesting the Botswana should switch to Proportional-Representation-System. Botswana is currently undergoing Constitutional Review process, with the commission, appointed in December, expected to deliver the report to President Mokgweetsi Masisi by September this year.

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