Two Japanese Volunteers working partnership with the Remote Area Development Programme (RADP) office in Boteti have launched a flourishing project that has created employment in the small settlements of Mmea and Xere in the Boteti Sub District.
The project, aptly dubbed gifts for Botswana involves the making of handy crafts like bags, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, ties, and pouches by the inhabitants of the two settlements. Handy crafts, in addition to traditional crafts like baskets, wooden crafts, wooden chairs and other items are then sold not only to individuals but to lodges, hotels and shops in sightseeing areas in Botswana and abroad.
This innovative project is being executed with the assistance of Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA) where volunteers from Japan are actively involved in carrying out daily project activities in the ethnic Basarwa settlements. Owing to this, many of the items and accessories created and built in Xere and Mmea have found their way to Japan and the Asian market.
According to Etsuko Nagayama a volunteer through JICA, two volunteers from Japan who are stationed at the Boteti sub district council have been very instrumental in the project. “The Boteti Sub District Council through the Social Welfare and Community Development Department had dispatched a team of volunteers to the settlements around Boteti with the aim of devising ways to help the local community. After our visit we proposed this idea of income generation activities by making crafts. Then the proposal was approved by the council and this is how this project started” Etsuko who prefers being addressed by her Setswana name Naledi says.
She says in many villages and settlements in rural Botswana the majority of the inhabitants cannot make their living without financial help from the government thus they had to think of strategies to help create employment and upholding the principle and spirit of Ipelegeng.
She says the main goal of the project is to create jobs in remote areas so that rural dwellers can get income by themselves and better their life “and also because we want to energise the craft sector in Botswana, we realised that they are many tourists from outside of Botswana these days, and they expect something made in Botswana. We believe that it is a very good opportunity for the tourism sector to flourish. To accomplish these goals, we encourage people making crafts to promote these items and market them to an international audience” she adds.
She says they sell many of the products in Japan through the internet “people like our items especially handy crafts using German print, currently we have three members in Xere and six members in Mmea who are making handy crafts. More than ten people are registered as producers of these traditional crafts” she reveals. She said the project which only begun its operation in April 2014, struggled in its first year as they couldn’t make any sales, through sheer perseverance and determination, the group is now doing better in sales having sold more than P 7,325 worth of products from May to December 2014 and P 26,270 worth of sales from January to August 2015.
At the moment the group has more than 15 partner-shops and lodges locally who are selling their items. She says however, that the amount of money they have made amounts to less than P500 salary for each person in the group per month. “We need more customers who are interested in our items. We would like to get more partner-shops. And we also want to promote our items to companies that want gifts or prizes for their customers. Furthermore, it would be great if we met someone who comes from abroad who could introduce and sell made in Botswana crafts to their country, like me, a Japanese can sell these items to Japan” she pleads.
She says that individuals in Botswana can also help as they are willing to offer local partners’ special prices for bulk orders from a minimum P500 per order. “It would be great if someone could buy our items together with their friends or colleagues. We need support not only from government but also from communities. There are so many good items and producers who can make these items in rural areas. The problem is marketing. I believe we can overcome this problem with people in all Botswana, including people from abroad fully behind us” she says.
She says while she drives the project, she would like it known that it is funded by the government through Boteti Sub district Council RADP program and that they are working together with local officers in Boteti Sub District. “They give good advice and help to operate this project” she says.
She says their main challenges are lack of business operating skills by members, lack of knowledge in using computers, internet and English for the mainly Basarwa ethnic group in the settlements. She says there is no electricity at the project sites and that some members cannot read and write “it is also not easy for us to reach market as we are located in a very rural area. It takes too much cost to go and sell our products in towns and abroad” she adds.
She says they are doing everything in their power to teach the residents business operations skills to ensure sustainability of the project long after they are gone “but it is tough for them with their literacy rate. It would be better if a Motswana in town could help to operate the project for them. So, I am looking for someone who would help us” she says. She says looking into the future, they are trying to get bulk orders from retail shops, companies and individuals by phone, mail or internet. Saying some lodges and shops have already indicated interest in partnering with the group to sell their wares.
She posits that as this is a community based project that has created employment for many they are obliged to call for help in promoting and intensifying marketing for the handy crafts project and its activities so that more people would know what they are doing. While the project is based in Xere and Mmea settlement, it will soon operate in all four remote area settlements of Xere, Mmea, Khwee and Kedia in Boteti. She says, they have recently created a website, http://giftbotswana.jimdo.com/ where their products can be seen and ordered from anywhere in the world.
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”