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Economy, agriculture and food security
The contribution of the agricultural sector to GDP decreased from 40 percent at independence in 1966 to 2.5 percent in 2003, partly because of the expansion of mining but also as a result of the stagnation of the sector itself and recurrent droughts. Despite all this, the agricultural sector remains fundamental as a source of food and income for nearly 50 percent of the total population (2001). HIV/AIDS has become another major challenge for the country, as it mainly concerns the skilled and productive section of the population, affecting 38 percent of the 15-49 age group and thus threatening Botswana’s impressive economic gains (2002).
The contribution of agriculture to total exports and imports in 2001 was 5 percent and 17 percent respectively. Most of the exported agricultural production comes from the livestock sub-sector which is the third source of foreign exchange. A significant part of the annual cereal requirements of 250 000 - 300 000 tonnes is imported from South Africa. The undernourished population has increased from 17 percent to 25 percent between 1992 and 1998, making poverty one of the highest priorities of the government.
The agricultural sector is composed of two distinct farming systems, the commercial and the traditional systems which both engage in crop and livestock production. The difference between commercial and traditional farming is based on land tenure, use of technology and marketing as opposed to consumption of production:
- Commercial farms tend to specialize in cattle production. They cover 8 percent of the total land area and represent less than 1 percent of all farms. In 1993 they held 14 percent of all cattle and accounted for 37 percent of the total production of cereals and pulses;
- Two-thirds of traditional farmers practise mixed farming, with cropping on individually-managed holdings and livestock grazing on communal land. In 1993, traditional farms held 86 percent of all cattle, 98 percent of goats and 83 percent of sheep. As the incidence of drought is high, small farmers are highly vulnerable to crop failure because they are totally reliant on rainfed crop production and do not use drought-resistant varieties.
The average yield of cereal crops on commercial farms is 500 kg/ha, compared with 200 kg/ha on traditional farms. Commercial farms also have higher annual calving rates and lower animal mortality.