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Country profile - Botswana


Botswana is an African success story. This landlocked country, lying directly north of South Africa, stands alone among its neighbours with its history of a stable multi-party democracy, economic growth, good human rights record, and lack of corruption. There is no secret to Botswana's success - an abundance of diamonds and careful, honest leaders have been a winning combination.

Following independence from Britain in 1966 the government developed the diamond mining industry jointly with the De Beers company, and Botswana is now the world's largest diamond producer. The revenue has been managed wisely: Botswana is now one of few countries in Africa classified as a lower middle income country. But with the mining industry, mainly diamonds, currently contributing about 35 per cent of GDP, the government recognizes the need to diversify the economy.

A master plan for agriculture

At independence, agriculture contributed about 40 per cent of GDP (compared at that time with 1 per cent for mining), and provided employment for about 90 per cent of those working in the country. These figures have fallen drastically; in the mid-1990s they were estimated at 4 and 16 per cent respectively. An estimated 80 per cent of agriculture's share of GDP comes from livestock production, mainly for beef. In 2002, however, the government showed its support for developing the other sectors of agriculture when it launched the National Agricultural Master Plan for Arable Agriculture and Dairy Development (NAMPAADD).

Botswana's agricultural potential is, unarguably, limited. The Kalahari desert occupies a large area of the country, and recent regional droughts have not helped the areas where rain-fed agriculture is the norm. Here, sorghum and maize are the main subsistence crops, with millet, groundnuts, beans and sunflower seeds also grown. Average farm size is 2.3 hectares, and farmers struggle to survive, even when the rains do come.

Sorting diamonds (Government of Botswana)
Sorting diamonds
Government of Botswana

Promoting irrigation of crops where possible is one of the objectives of the NAMPAADD. A horticultural research unit has been set up, and farmers are being assisted to expand vegetable production, particularly in the east of the country where conditions are favourable. Production training farms are also planned in different regions, to showcase new technologies and management practices to farmers, in the three focus areas of rain-fed agriculture, horticulture and dairy farming. And at the same time, development of agricultural infrastructure, including roads, electricity and telecommunications, is at the policy planning stage.

Beef and dairy

Raising cattle has long been the most profitable farming activity in Botswana. The beef industry is well established, and over 95 per cent of production is exported, much of it to Europe. Disease control is stringent, and the country's Vaccine Institute is a regional leader in vaccine production and supply. The country has an estimated 2.5 million heads of cattle, and a similar number of small stock, mainly sheep and goats. But with only 20 per cent of the country's land suitable for grazing, the success of the livestock business has often been to the detriment of natural resources: overgrazing and damage to trees are frequently encountered negative impacts.

Dairy farming, in contrast, is not well developed in Botswana; only 30 per cent of the country's fresh milk demand is supplied internally, most of the remainder coming from neighbouring South Africa. Expansion of this sector is planned under NAMPAADD, through improved dairy herds and establishment of pasteurising centres.

But it's not all roses...

Botswana has not escaped all of Africa's curses. It has the second highest HIV infection rate in the world, after Swaziland, with approximately one in three adults HIV positive. But here again, the government - and notably the President himself, Festus Mogae - have set an example for other African countries. Botswana has Africa's most advanced anti-AIDS programme, with anti-retroviral drugs readily available. Nonetheless, life expectancy has plummeted, many children have been orphaned, and effects on the economy are inevitable.

There is another recent blot on Botswana's desert landscape. The native Bushmen, who for tens of thousands of years have lived in the desert regions of southern Africa, are currently fighting a legal battle for their right to return to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, having been expelled several years ago. This time the government may be less than exemplary: a lack of respect for this traditional way of life is evident, with an expressed desire for the Bushmen to integrate into society.

Botswana's success has not touched all of its people - poverty is evident in many rural and urban areas - but its leaders have much to be proud of. Diversifying the economy and raising its poorest people out of subsistence are the next challenges. Upmarket tourism is being developed, with wildlife and wilderness on offer. Real attempts to improve agricultural productivity may also pay off.

Statistical information
  • Country: Republic of Botswana
  • Capital: Gaborone
  • Area: 600,370 sq km
  • Population: 1,640,115
  • Languages: Setswana, Kalanga, Sekgalagadi, English (official)
  • People living with HIV/AIDS: 350,000
  • HIV/AIDS prevalence rate: 37%
  • Life expectancy: 34
  • GDP: purchasing power parity -$15.05 billion (2004 est.)
  • GDP per capita: purchasing power parity - $9,200 (2004 est.)
  • GDP composition by sector: agriculture 4%, industry 44% (including 36% mining), services 52% (2003 est.)
  • Major industries: diamonds, copper, nickel, salt, soda ash, potash; livestock processing; textiles
  • Agricultural products: livestock, sorghum, maize, millet, beans, sunflowers, groundnuts
  • Natural resources: diamonds, copper, nickel, salt, soda ash, potash, coal, iron ore, silver
  • Major export partners: European Free Trade Association (EFTA) 87%, Southern African Customs Union (SACU) 7%, Zimbabwe 4% (2000)

Written by: Anne Moorhead

Date published: November 2005


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