From the podium

From the podium

His Excellency Festus G. Mogae (President of the Republic of Botswana)

It is my singular honour to address you on the occasion of the World Food Summit: five years later. A historic forum which offers us an opportunity to review progress made towards ending hunger since the 1996 World Food Summit and to identify ways to accelerate the process.

Mr Chairman, the goal of universal food security and nutrition is a vision shared by all of us and it is important that we should work hard to realize it. The realization of such a vision demands, among other things, the recognition that the attainment of food security requires a multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral approach and that it is a process that must be strategically managed to produce the desired results.

It is a serious indictment of humanity that in an era when globally more food is produced than can be consumed, we continue to have millions of people, particularly in Africa, who are hungry and are deprived of the food they need to lead active and healthy lives. This sad situation cannot be allowed to continue. To this end, I join others who spoke before me, to applaud the Director-General and his team of professional staff for the arrangements they have made to ensure the successful convening of the World Food Summit fifth anniversary to renew the commitment of world leaders; to mobilize political will and the much needed resources to accelerate the pace towards meeting the World Food Summit's target of reducing by half the number of hungry people in the world.

Mr Chairman, I also wish to reaffirm Botswana's commitment to the vision as espoused in the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action and resolve to implement its specific commitments. In this regard, Botswana upholds the principle of accountable governance and the promotion of equality of opportunity among men and women as enshrined in our Constitution.

Mr Chairman, Botswana experienced fairly rapid growth in both social and economic terms since its Independence in 1966. From those early years our development objectives have been to raise the standard of living of our people, to alleviate poverty and provide basic and social infrastructure. This has resulted in a modest improvement in our incomes. I should however mention that during the post-1966 period my country has been plagued by drought and other disasters which have led to a severe drop in agricultural output, meaning that food insecurity remains a major problem. We observed that the capacity to monitor and evaluate progress is still inadequate and for this reason we have initiated the process to access FAO assistance to participate in the Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information Mapping Systems.

As a country with a largely rural population, we recognize the fact that agriculture is one of the critical sectors in the efforts to alleviate hunger and poverty. Although Botswana experiences unfavourable climatic conditions such as frequent and prolonged drought conditions, we are determined to improve the performance of the agricultural sector by exploiting whatever potential exists.

In this regard, a National Master Plan for arable agriculture and dairy development was approved by Parliament early this year. The Plan, which will be implemented over a ten-year period, is aimed at introducing modern production technologies; iversification into new products, particularly those for which we have a comparative advantage; to accelerate the development of infrastructure such as roads and market facilities; to improve access to markets and enhance the marketability of products; and to facilitate the provision of services. It is our expectation that these initiatives will create a conducive environment for agricultural production and to make the rural sector attractive for business and to the youth. Thus, reducing rural to urban migration, as well as its attended problems. This is consistent with the letter and spirit of the new partnership for Africa's development, NEPAD, which seeks to revitalize economic development in Africa.

In line with our commitment to improve the agricultural sector, in 1997 we launched the implementation of the Convention to Combat Desertification. To that end we are now in the process of developing a National Action Programme which will become part of the next six-year National Development Plan. This is an important initiative for Botswana because we are prone to drought and vulnerable to desertification, due mainly to deforestation, over-grazing, soil erosion and wild fires.

Mr Chairman, Botswana's livestock subsector has performed relatively well over the years compared to the arable subsector. Beef is the most important agricultural export commodity that generates foreign exchange and income which contributes to livelihood of the rural population. However, the sector is continually threatened by transboundary diseases of economic importance such as the foot and mouth disease (FMD) and contagious bovine pleuro-pneumonia (CBPP).

Constant vigilance in livestock disease control has, however, enabled us to succeed in containing outbreaks of such diseases whenever they have occurred albeit at enormous cost. The threat of outbreaks of livestock diseases underscores the need for bilateral and regional cooperation in disease control and management. To this end, I wish to commend FAO for the efforts that are being made to assist Member States to mount regional programmes to fight transboundary livestock diseases.

In the past few years, for instance, we have also experienced the insurgence of the tsetse fly in the Okavango Delta which imposes the need to invest considerable resources in its control. Once again, this is an area in which cooperation among countries is required if we are to succeed in the effort to eradicate the pest.

Mr Chairman, as a food deficit country, because we are a semi-arid country, Botswana is a net food importing developing country (NFIDC) under the Marrakech Ministerial Decision of the Uruguay Round. We, therefore, recognize the important role of food trade in promoting food security and call for speedy implementation of this decision to minimize import restrictions in order to ease the food import burden and to promote access to affordable food. On the other hand, it is desirable that tariff peaks and escalations be reduced to the minimum, in order to afford countries such as my own to export with minimal market access problems. This is a critical necessity for us, since the income from beef exports contributes significantly towards the payment of the grain import bill. Fair trade does have a direct influence on our ability to address the food security problem at the national level, reduce the tariff peaks and escalations are also necessary conditions for the attainment of the national objective of agricultural diversification.

Mr Chairman, Botswana is also a country that is seriously affected by HIV/AIDS, one of the worst affected in the world. The rate of HIV/AIDS infection poses an enormous and unprecedented challenge to the goal of achieving food security. HIV/AIDS affects the most productive of the workforce including the agricultural labour force. Many of those affected are breadwinners and when they die they leave their dependants as orphans who are vulnerable to food insecurity. The fight against HIV/AIDS is, therefore, very urgent and must be given the highest priority because the adverse impact of this dreadful disease cuts across all fields of human endeavour.

In all the programmes that we undertake we pay special attention to the importance of addressing gender issues, including the social status and vulnerability of women. In an effort to address the challenges facing us, Botswana adopted a number of policies and strategies. In 1997 Botswana adopted a long-term vision for the country, Vision 2016, to guide strategic thinking and policy making. The Vision emphasizes the need for good quality education that is able to adapt to changing needs of the country as the global environment changes: the need for a culture of hard work and discipline, where efforts are rewarded; the need for equitable income distribution, poverty eradication; good quality health facilities and the need for social safety nets for the underprivileged. To this end, Botswana has established social security net programmes such as drought relief, disaster relief, old age pension schemes, orphan care, to mention but a few.

Through existing Government intervention programmes such as the feeding programme for under-five children and for schools, significant progress is being made in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. Malnutrition among children under five of age decreased from about 15 percent in 1995 to about 8 percent in the year 2000.

Mr Chairman, in conclusion, I am pleased to report that Botswana is making steady progress in the implementation of the food summit plan of action. I am convinced that the process will gain momentum due to various programmes that are being put in place and the resources that we have committed to ensure the attainment of the agreed objectives. I am also convinced that through the Vision 2016, which is consistent with the Rome Declaration on Food Security, the 1996 World Food Summit targets are achievable and, in Botswana they are being achieved.

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