Gaborone — The contribution of agriculture to economic growth continues to decline despite the fact that much land has been set aside to facilitate its growth, President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi has observed.
"It is my strong belief that, as a nation, we have not used our agricultural land as productively as we ought to," he said.
Addressing an inaugural land symposium in Gaborone on August 12, President Masisi said vast tracts of land zoned for agricultural use were either under-utilised or lying idle.
He expressed concern that many ranches remained undeveloped whilst others were poorly managed hence the need to come up with practical strategies to address such issues.
President Masisi also lamented that some people made it difficult for government to acquire land from them by hiking prices.
That, he said, was a major reason government was struggling to acquire both developed and undeveloped land for public purposes.
He pointed out that the law allowed for compulsory acquisition of land when the title-holder refused to surrender it to government.
President Masisi said another concern was about citizens who sold land, particularly to foreigners adding "this is a worrying trend. I would like to take this opportunity to discourage Batswana from selling their land."
He said government had zero tolerance for corruption and money laundering noting that land had become one of the quickest assets through which such activities manifested.
The President said he was aware that land boards were usually blamed for delays in land allocations.
"I take note of these concerns some of which are occasioned by the bureaucratic processes and shortage of resources to make serviced land available for allocation. We need to improve our processes in this regard to make land accessible to all citizens especially that it is allocated for free," he said.
President Masisi said moving from restrictive traditional land use to accommodate more diversified economic activities within one piece of land was key.
He since independence, land use had evolved from traditional use of residential, pastoral and arable to tourism, multi-residential and integrated farming adding that the evolution had thus compelled government to come up with policies and programmes to accommodate land use challenges.
Policies and programmes implemented in the last five decades included Tribal Grazing Land Policy of 1975, the 1993 National Policy on Land Tenure, National Policy on Agricultural Development of 1992, the 1990 Tourism Policy and Botswana Land Policy of 2015.
"Through these policies, the intention of government was to address the challenges that may hamper the efforts of Batswana to develop themselves and the country through sustainable utilisation of our land resources," he said.
He indicated that for a long time, tourism activities had been concentrated in northern and north western parts of the country which had denied people to explore other areas with equally greater potential.
"It is for these reasons that we should consider some of these policy issues with a view to introduce flexibility and remove impediments to multiple use of land. The aim is to allow Batswana to unlock the full economic value of their land and increase their productive capacity. This is meant to contribute towards economic diversification and creation of employment in the country," he said.
The President said the revised 2019 Botswana Land Policy aimed at removing some impediments on changes of land use, such as ploughing fields by allowing Batswana to utilise up to 50 per cent of their fields for other purposes with the permission of planning authorities.
Agro-tourism guidelines had also been revised by increasing the proportion of agricultural land that could be used for tourism related activities from 15 to 50 per cent.
The integrated agricultural farming guidelines had also been relaxed to allow ancillary uses of up to 50 per cent of the land, including removal of the road hierarchy requirement from the tourism-related accommodation guidelines.
Source : BOPA