REMARKS BY HIS EXCELLENCY MR. FESTUS G. MOGAE, PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF BOTSWANA, AT THE OFFICIAL LAUNCH OF CEDA YOUNG FARMERS FUND:
1. The fund I am privileged to launch to-night is intended to contribute significantly towards our national effort to reduce youth unemployment. I am therefore delighted that CEDA management has invited a cross section of our society to witness the launch.
2. CEDA's initiative is a message to all of us that youth unemployment can only be reduced through the joint effort of all stakeholders. I commend CEDA for their significant contribution towards addressing one of the most critical national challenges, youth unemployment.
3. CEDA Young Farmers Fund is but one of the various initiatives aimed at creating employment opportunities for our young people. Let me once again reiterate my appeal to all of us to support Government's effort to reduce youth unemployment. The CEDA Young Farmers Fund will be yet another opportunity for the business community, non- governmental organizations and others to respond to the national appeal.
4. Although the agricultural sector's contribution to the economy has declined from 12% of GDP at independence to about 2% as in 2005, agriculture remains an important source of livelihood for many Batswana, particularly in rural areas. The sector's strong linkage to our rural economy is therefore an important consideration in Government's efforts to revive agricultural production.
5. Government remains convinced that the agricultural sector can reclaim its prominence if all stakeholders play their part. In this respect, efficient allocation and utilization of our abundant land resource will remain amongst our most critical challenges. It is therefore my hope that one of the benefits of the CEDA Young Farmers scheme, which I am launching to - night will be better appreciation that the land we have is a blessing - a "gift from God and heritage from our forefathers" as the words of our national anthem go.
6. As I have already indicated, we have not been spared from one of the challenges experienced by most developing economies, that is unemployment, particularly that of young people. The youth fund will therefore have, as one of its key objectives, the creation of employment opportunities for youth, through the development of sustainable agricultural opportunities.
7. Although I will leave it to CEDA management itself to explain details of the scheme, let me just highlight some of the key features of the CEDA Young Farmers Fund for the benefit of the audience. The maximum size of the loan for a project will be half a million pula at a low interest rate of 5%. Interest accruing during the grace period of 24 months which has been set, will be capitalized. Repayment periods for loans will range from 60 to 120 months depending on the amount borrowed.
8. Let me hasten to add my word of caution that agricultural projects have a long gestation period. Whilst I am aware that young people tend to the impatient and to want quick results, I am confident that the young people who decide to benefit from the scheme will be only those who are determined to succeed whatever the hurdles.
9. Beneficiaries of the scheme will need to be efficient if they are to overcome the high risks associated with our country's harsh climatic conditions. Let me also appeal to the young people who will benefit from the Fund, to settle their loan amounts diligently so that others can also benefit from the scheme.
10. Our young people will however not succeed without the support of other stake -holders. I therefore take this opportunity to appeal to all concerned to play a supportive role in ensuring that the noble objectives of the CEDA Young Farmers Fund are realized.
11. Amongst the key stake holders are the parents themselves. It is common knowledge that many households are currently hoarding vast tracts of unutilized land. I am therefore appealing to those parents to allow their children to use their idle masimo and other holdings.
12. Parents will also need to counsel their children to utilize the loaned funds wisely and to settle their loans. Let me also caution against the temptation on the part of parents to use their children as a front. Such action will not only be against the law but will also defeat Government's effort to help their children.
13. Authorities who have been charged with the responsibility of allocating land too will need to appreciate that the CEDA Young Farmers Fund is bound to generate many new applications for land. I therefore urge all those concerned, to clear land allocation waiting lists and to give special consideration to applications from the young beneficiaries of the scheme.
14. Business enterprises, particularly those in the retail sector, can also play a supportive role in making the agricultural projects run by our youth, both successful and sustainable. Procuring the produce from farms run by youth will be an excellent demonstration of corporate responsibility on their part, and will be deeply appreciated by Government as well as the entire nation.
15. Given the critical need to ensure that those who benefit from the scheme are trained and mentored, it is likely that Government's extension services will be considerably over - stretched by the new scheme. I therefore wish to appeal to our friends in the diplomatic community, international and non- governmental organizations, business houses as well as private individuals, to support Government in training our youth on production skills. Other forms of partnership with the public sector will also be deeply appreciated.
16. Director of Ceremonies, I can not conclude my remarks without reacting to the unjustified cynicism that has been demonstrated from some quarters in response to the new CEDA scheme. Whilst I readily appreciate that many of our youth do not regard agriculture as one of their intended pursuits, there are those amongst our young people who wish to make a living from agriculture.
17. Let us give those youth a chance in life and not discourage them with our unfounded generalizations. Besides, the CEDA Young Farmers Fund will be just one of the many schemes that have been introduced to help our youth in their efforts to find sustainable employment opportunities. I encourage the youth to ignore the unwarranted pronouncements by some of our urbanized prophets of doom.
18. Finally, let me appeal to youth themselves to appreciate, amongst other requirements that:
* CEDA will only release the loan funds after ensuring that each applicant has undergone rigorous training and mentoring and demonstrated their commitment to his or her project
* CEDA will insist that all projects that are funded through their scheme are owner- managed
* In order to attain economies of scale and to reduce production costs, youth will as much as possible, be encouraged to form production clusters.
19. In launching the CEDA Young Farmers Fund let me remind those of our young people who will benefit from the fund that, Botswana youth have demonstrated astounding success in other fields and made us truly proud. There is therefore no reason why some of them cannot succeed where many of their parents have failed, and become productive young farmers.
20. Let me leave those young people with the following words from the late President of the United States of America, Thomas Jefferson:
"Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bands."
(NB: The following text might be best described as an abbreviated version of H.E. the President's remarks, as he considerably expanded his comments during in his delivery)