Botswana’s quest for economic transformation has been relatively slow. This year’s Investment & Trade Conference and the Global Expo organized by the Botswana Investment & Trade Centre (BITC) has identified the Agriculture sector and the Textile industry as two economic precincts which can lead Botswana’s economic revolution.
Experts posit that the two sectors could play an impactful role in driving Botswana’s economy into being export led, industrial, diversified and employment creative. When sharing notes on the textile and apparel industry former Minister of Trade & Industry in Lesotho, Joshua Setima said there was need for deliberate and willing political participation in the pursuit of a flourishing textile sector.
He observed that the government needed to take deliberate action by coming up with legislative frameworks that speak to duty free trades, tax incentives and other fiscal exceptions in the area of textiles. He said Botswana can learn a lot from Lesotho’s textile industry.
According to Setima car seats of every Ford van assembled in South Africa are manufactured in Lesotho adding that the factories are hiring thousands of people. The former Lesotho Cabinet Minister revealed that in 2008 when investors migrated from Phikwe factory shells to his country it was because Lesotho had attractive packages for textile industrialization.
He also spoke to the issue of availability of skilled labour and access to permits for investors. “When the world is working 24 hours here in southern Africa at 10 pm we close boarders, that is not investor friendly and needs political participation from echelons of power to simply make our boarders operate 24 hours,” he said. He added that Botswana needed to come up with integrated textile and clothing clusters in order to easily address and craft well tailored policies and incentives for them depending on geographical needs. He encouraged Botswana to move with speed in resurrecting the textile firms in Phikwe since the equipment and infrastructure was already there.
Executive Director of African Cotton & Textile Industries Federation, Ms Belinda Edmonds expressed that the textile industry was an ingredient for economic revolution around the world; explaining that Europe and the United States realized their economic turnaround through clothing apparel industries. According to Edmonds, Botswana will have to tap into the technology revolution if it is to harness the comparative advantage in the textile industry. “Changing consumer behaviour and buying patterns to accommodate your textile and apparel trends also output tangible results in this sector,” she said.
The over 3O years experienced textile guru advised Botswana to leverage on initiatives like AGOA and European Union duty free incentives as well as USAID to grow the textile sector and create jobs as well as realize the much needed diversification. Agriculture must attract young people
In the agriculture sector emphasis was made in the area of attracting young entrepreneurs to venture into primary agricultural production for sustainable food security. It was established that if well developed under large scale and techno based production the agricultural sector had the potential of absorbing idle graduates from engineers, economists, crop and animal health scientists just to name but a few. Thirty-five year Multi Millionaire Nigerian rice producer, Rotimi Williams shared that after Nigeria identified Oil, agriculture was abandoned just like after Botswana discovered diamonds.
He told attendants that the Nigerian government then took deliberate steps to encourage mass entrepreneurial undertaking in the sector. Apart from the willingness and passion from an entrepreneur it was established that government deliberate actions needed to go beyond funding and access cumbersome initiatives.
The initiatives, it was said, range from monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, legislative frameworks that actually enact empowerment polices, to binding laws in the area of procurement, government uptake, as well as purchase from retail and wholesale outlets. Williams asserted that in Nigeria the government deliberately put out action plans that bore fruits to encourage food security such as incubation, mentoring and actually integrated all efforts to ensure food security.
The conference further highlighted that the dairy business is a capital intensive venture. Latest statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture indicate that only 4 % of the milk consumed locally is produced here while the rest is imported, particularly from South Africa. Ram Ottapathu, Chief Executive Officer of Choppies Group also made a courtesy call that, “we will directly procure your products with ease.’’ Ram He said they will take young entrepreneurs through their standards and accreditation and even incubate their agricultural ventures into their distribution centres, “to an extent of acquiring a stake in your business if need be, looking at your capacity you can even package the products for our Choppies brand.”
Ottapathu said Batswana needed to approach the group to take advantage of the Choppies pan African portfolio and market space. “we cannot do everything on our own, because Choppies is a Botswana brand, Batswana need to enter into processing, packaging, horticulture and all, no need to worry about 2 million market, Choppies in Kenya, Zambia can actually absorb this Botswana products provided they are deficit in those countries rather than relying only on south Africa.”
To develop the agricultural sector into a flourishing sector Dr. Martin Kebakile, Chief Executive Officer, National Food Technology Research (NAFTERC) noted the need for change of mindset “We need to identify young farmers who are making it in the agricultural sector and link them to other youth interested in the agriculture sector. That will inspire more young people into the sector.”