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The Hon. L.M. Seretse
Late Vice-President of Botswana and Minister of Local Government and Lands
Mr. Chairman and participants in this workshop, wish to extend to each one of you a warm and cordial welcome to our country. It is with a great deal of pleasure and interest that Botswana has agreed to host the five-day Workshop on Land Policy and Agricultural Production in Eastern and Southern Africa. We are grateful you came and we hope you will enjoy your stay among the people of Botswana.
It has become apparent that the African continent is richly endowed with natural resources. It is generally known that these resources are located in countries in which per capita income levels are generally low and in which rural poverty is particularly acute. In a number of countries, these resources, particularly land resources, offer the only significant prospect of income generation and employment creation.
Land is a commodity which the Republic of Botswana has in abundance, particularly since our country's area of 582,000 square kilometres is occupied by a population of approximately 936,000 persons. Yet, we have long been aware that such an apparently luxurious position does not relieve us of the complex problems and difficult decisions any nation must face in sharing its land resources and managing their exploitation.
The large and seemingly empty spaces on the map of Botswana would please any spatial planner; and many of them have been tempted to fill these spaces with straight lines and zones of various descriptions. Sometimes this has been done without adequate consideration of the range of interests, often overlapping, which can apply even to apparently remote and empty areas. This is just one reason why we in Botswana, like those in other African countries, are constantly trying to refine our land policies.
In this process we recognize the importance of comparing and exchanging experiences and ideas with our colleagues elsewhere on the continent. It is for such a discussion that, with the assistance of the United Nations University, you have gathered for this workshop.
A principal reason for the importance of the land resource to any society is its capacity for the production of crops and livestock. Therefore, a major theme of this workshop will be the relationship between land policy and agricultural production-in particular, the pressures that the forces of agricultural development bring to bear upon the land and the tenure systems under which it is held and used.
Much of Botswana's land is suited to the production of beef cattle, although with our low rainfall this country must be more land extensive here than some other countries. The low rainfall means also that careful management of the range is critical to sustained production, with the danger of possibly irreversible ecological degradation if overgrazing is permitted. If we wish to develop our livestock industry, we must take account of these factors and develop a land policy that permits the ecologically sound, economically profitable, and socially just utilization of this valuable resource. No doubt you will hear during this workshop about the achievements and setbacks regarding our Tribal Grazing Land Programme, Arable Lands Development Programme, and Communal Area Development Programmes. I am sure that delegates from elsewhere in the region have much experience of their own in this field, which will be of value for them to exchange.
In the eastern areas of Botswana, where the rainfall is slightly higher, the population density is understandably greater and people gain a major part of their subsistence from crop cultivation. In this sector, too, we are faced with issues with which you will all be familiar in your own countries.
As population density increases, and with it the number of cattle and other livestock upon which people depend, the traditional land tenure system comes under a variety of pressures. In some cases, such systems break down, or lose the social equity which has generally been our heritage in African land tenure. In these cases, land reforms must be made an urgent priority. In other instances, among which I would count Botswana, these pressures do not reach such a critical point and it is more appropriate to speak of the development of land-tenure systems and related institutions. It is, of course, incorrect to suppose that traditional land-tenure systems in Africa stagnated over centuries without adapting to changing conditions. Therefore, we should, where possible, design our policies on tenure systems and administrative structures so that they constitute further steps in the progressive adaptation of these institutions, in a manner consonant with our individual development objectives.
In Botswana, we have already established and developed land boards to administer arable, grazing, residential, and commercial land in the rural areas. These land boards, which largely but not entirely replace chiefs as administrators of rural land, must involve themselves not only in the routine allocation and recording of tenure, but also in land-use planning, that is, if the pressures on arable and grazing areas which I mentioned earlier are to be contained. Again, our experience in meeting problems regarding our land boards is just one instance of similar experience elsewhere in the region which i believe will somewhat feature in your discussions.
One change in land tenure which some people believe to be necessary for increased agricultural production and enhanced rural prosperity is the introduction of freehold. This change has its advocates in Botswana, as elsewhere. It has not yet been introduced in our rural areas, with the exception of certain freehold farms, declared in colonial times, and the debate as to its desirability continues. Partly the issue is one of security on rural land and how it affects modern investment in agriculture.
Commercial banks do not generally recognize land held communally as collateral for loans that could be used to develop agricultural production. The challenge facing us in this respect is whether we can cause our financial institutions to change or re-examine their lending policies and we modify our tenure in Africa in such a way that investment in agricultural development becomes easier while at the same time maintaining the social security that Africans have for so long recognized in their land.
In making these preliminary remarks, I do not, in fact, need to remind you of the complexity of the issues we must consider in designing appropriate policy for land tenure and agricultural production in our countries. It is your awareness of their complexity and of the need to exchange ideas on these problems that has brought you together.
Without taking any more of your time, ladies and gentlemen, it is now my pleasure to declare this workshop officially open, and may I wish you an enjoyable and productive week's work blessed with abundant rains.
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