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September 07, 2008

Botswana to invest $1.5 billion in agriculture over next seven years

Botswana will invest 10 billion pula ($1.5 billion) in its agriculture industry over the next seven years to secure food supplies and boost farming's contribution to the economy, Agriculture Minister Christian De Graaf said.

The money will be spent on improving farm infrastructure and securing water supplies for irrigation, De Graaf said in an interview in the capital, Gaborone, today.

"The underlying principle is that we want to produce enough crops for the nation,'' he said. "We want to steer the agricultural sector, but we don't want this to be government driven.''

The contribution of agriculture to Botswana's gross domestic product has fallen from more than 80 percent when the southern African nation gained independence in 1966 to just 2 percent today. The country produces just 15 percent of its national cereal requirement, De Graaf said, and the government wants to increase this to more than 50 percent.

As much as 400,000 hectares of new or underutilized land will be brought into production between April next year and March 2016, the minister said. Subsidies will be introduced to encourage farmers to take part.

Under the plan, known as Integrated Support for Arable Agricultural Development, De Graaf said the government will also ensure water for irrigation.

One of the major water projects being undertaken is the Zambezi river project, which aims to construct a 3 billion pula ($442.5 million) pipeline from the Chobe River to the Pandamatenga district in northwestern Botswana. The pipeline will irrigate as much as 40,000 hectares of land, De Graaf said.

"Another 2 billion pula will be used on the development of infrastructure,'' he added.

Botswana wants to source 2.8 million cubic liters a year from the Chobe for the project, and is in discussions with neighboring Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe about securing water rights, De Graaf said.


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