FAO.org

Home > Gender and Land Rights Database > Country profiles > Countries List > General Introduction
Gender and Land Rights Database

Botswana

In 2006, the estimated population was 1 773 240 people, out of which 921 585 were women. Population density in 2006 was 3 people per square kilometre (1). In the same year, the rural population was 42 percent of the total (2). In 2007, in terms of ethnic composition, 79 percent of the population was Tswana, 11 percent was Kalanga and 3 percent was Basarwa (3).

In 2007, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was US$13.2 billion (4), while per capita GDP in 2006 was US$4 755 (5). The country has maintained one of the world’s highest economic growth rates since independence in 1966, though growth fell below 5 percent in 2007–2008. Diamond mining has fueled much of the expansion and currently accounts for more than one-third of GDP and for 70–80 percent of export earnings. Tourism, financial services, subsistence farming and cattle raising are other key sectors. In 2008, agriculture contributed 1.6 percent to GDP, industry 52.6 percent and services 45.8 percent (5).
About half of the population lives in rural areas and is largely dependent on subsistence crop and livestock farming. Agriculture meets only a small portion of food needs and contributes a very small amount to GDP, primarily through beef exports, but it remains a social and cultural touchstone. Cattle raising, in particular, dominated the country’s social and economic life before independence (6). The agricultural sector is small and mainly focused on cattle farming. The national herd is estimated at 1.2 million head, 813 000 goats and 144 000 sheep, down significantly from previous decades. Food-crop production, such as mainly maize, sorghum, millet and beans, meets less than one-third of consumption needs, even in drought-free years. Although exceptional rainfall can raise annual production of the major grain crops, output is more commonly 15 000–30 000 tonnes (4).

In 2006, with a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.664, the country ranked 127th out of 179 countries measured (7). In 2007, 23.5 percent of the population lived below the poverty line of US$1 per day (3). Household food security is particularly at risk for many female-headed households, owners of small herds, those deriving their income from informal sector employment, the unemployed and under-employed and remote-area dwellers. Female-headed households generally tend to be more vulnerable, own a smaller herd of cattle and have limited access to land and other productive means (8). In 2006, 46.6 percent of all households were female-headed (1). HIV/AIDS infection rates in the country are the second highest in the world (9). In 2007, 23.9 percent of the adult population aged 15-49 was living with HIV. In 2004, the prevalence rate was 29.4 percent among females aged 15–49 and 20 percent among males of the same age group (10). In 2007, the adult literacy rate was 83 percent (5). In 2006, life expectancy at birth was estimated at 48.8 years for men and 60 years for women (1).

In 2005, women accounted for 41 percent of the 817 000 economically active people (1) and for 57 percent of those working in agriculture (1).Women perform a heavy workload in the agricultural sector. They also are very involved in the informal and traditionally unpaid care work. This is a major role, especially with the HIV/AIDS scourge. This caregiver role has also led to women engaging in small-scale production which is near their homesteads and requires little travelling. Therefore, women, who are the key force in agricultural labour, are relegated to subsistence farming, such as backyard gardening, poultry raising, beekeeping and small stock keeping, on a small scale (11).

The country has 25 980 000 ha of agricultural land, out of which only 377 000 ha are arable (5). Land scarcity and overcrowding in low-income settlements have increased and so have the problems of urban land administration, particularly on peri-urban customary land (12). The tenure system in rural areas is administered through the Tribal Land Act of 1968 which governs access, use and disposal of tribal land (13). In 2003, tribal land comprised 70.9 percent, or 411 349 ha, of the land area; freehold land was 4.2 percent, or 24 572 ha, and state land was 24.9 percent, or 144 588 ha (12). The Act transferred the authority over land from the Chiefs to the Land Boards. District Land Boards were placed under the nominal political direction of the District Councils and included representatives of both traditional leaders and councillors. Freehold titles, originally granted by the Protectorate Government to European farmers, were excluded from the jurisdiction of the Land Boards (14). The Commission on Land Tenure, established in 1983 to assess the status of land tenure systems in the country, concluded that the customary tenure system in itself was not an encumbrance to the development of the country. The Commission observed that these systems are perpetual, allow easy access to land and actually provide security of tenure both in terms of access to land as well as inheritability (13).

Access, ownership and control of land and other agricultural resources and inputs are, in most cases, in the realm of men. The 1993 agricultural census data indicate that only 36 percent of farmholders are females. This has been attributed mainly to laws on inheritance rights which held that sons were the preferred heirs of the family. The law also used to discriminate against women because women were regarded as minors and therefore were not entitled to possess property, including land and other valuable resources like cattle. Under the traditional organization of labour, a male guardian had to own farm cattle and make major decisions about valuable agricultural activities while women were treated as passive participants. Women were made to forfeit their property rights to their male partners who had the marital powers and were regarded as heads of households who would administer the property of the household. The law has since been amended to remove the marital powers and allow women to own immovable property under the Deeds Registry Amendment Act of 1996 (11).

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography