Ambassador Van Vranken Remarks at the Agriculture & Food Security Conference

Wednesday, September 13, 2023 10:00 a.m. at the Grand Aria Hotel, Gaborone

As prepared for delivery

Introduction and Call to Action

  • Honorable Ministers
  • Excellencies
  • Distinguished guests and captains of the industry
  • Ladies and Gentlemen
  • Good morning.
  • I am very pleased to be here to attend this conference on Agriculture and Food Security. Agriculture is the fundamental endeavor of any economy. And food security is an ever-present subject, one which we take very seriously as the U.S. government.
  • Agriculture represents a major opportunity for economic diversification and resilience for Botswana, and the United States is a proud partner – from cattle to citrus to fertilizer production.
  • That said, food security today is a global issue of particular concern, which if not managed well, can easily become a crisis.

The Current Food Security Crisis

  • The world population is continuing to grow and expected to increase to approach 10 billion by 2050. This means we need more food and to use the food we have more efficiently.
  • We know that most of this growth is concentrated in the Sub-Saharan African region. The population for this region is expected to almost double by 2050.
  • We also know that global cropland area per capita is continuously decreasing. For each person on earth, there is fewer than one-quarter hectare of cropland. We need to conserve this.
  • We saw fuel scarcity and prices become exacerbated when Russia invaded Ukraine. Ultimately, this made it more expensive to draw water from the ground, irrigate crops, and guarantee quality agricultural yields in this region. This affects Africa. This affects Botswana.
  • When Russia destroys the food silos and shipping depots in Ukraine, it exacerbates hunger, increases prices, and the entire world suffers – particularly Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Because of this convergence of hardships, families are often no longer able to sustain themselves. Similarly, commercial farmers are no longer able to meet their desired production levels. This diminishes food availability, quality, and affordability, critical risks for our global food ecosystem.

What it Means for Africa

  • When food security is at risk, affordable nutrition is impacted. This creates untold health and human developmental issues, especially for our emerging young generations.
  • Africa’s youth will play a central role in our shared future, and empowering them will be key to addressing food security challenges on the continent.
  • Political unrest, war, the inflationary pressures caused by conflict, and the effects of climate change such as natural disasters (whose frequency have increased as well) thwart efforts by countries to attain food security for their people.
  • For Africa, climate and political risks can compound each other and prevent those that need basic food and services from meeting these needs
  • That is why the U.S. government’s African Trade and Investment initiative is making critical efforts to advance food security across the continent. This includes Botswana.

What it Means for Botswana

  • For Botswana, food security represents areas of concern, but also opportunities for economic diversification.
  • Botswana is water scarce. Cattle are vulnerable to the heat. These are Botswana’s core agricultural activity.
  • For landlocked countries such as Botswana, food importation – which accounts for a significant percentage of food consumed – also adds vulnerability when transportation costs can be disrupted and logistics channels limited by long shipping and customs time, as well as a lack of direct access to the sea.
  • Botswana’s population is young, and youth employment is an ongoing challenge that requires diversified economic growth.

The Role of Climate Change

  • Climate change is another reality that we need to face. We cannot speak about sustainable agriculture or food security without considering the effects of climate change.
  • We continue to see changes in rain patterns and seasons and a rise in temperatures that result in droughts and floods that make traditional farming unpredictable and frustrating.

What Botswana is Doing

  • I am heartened by what U.S.-Botswana are doing to partner to build food security and climate resilience in this country.
  • Diversifying the economy through agriculture is a core challenge, but also a huge opportunity for Botswana.
  • The growth we have seen in investments from Pandamatenga and Selebi-Phikwe to the cattle ranches of Ghanzi District is very exciting.
  • Just last months, I visited hectares upon hectares of projects across Botswana that will usher in a new era of agriculture here.
  • I also know that Botswana has been very active in developing youth participation in agriculture through various programs focused on development funding, mentoring, and preferential access to land.
  • I encourage this important path for job creation and youth empowerment to continue to position the young people of Botswana to a contribute solutions to Botswana’s most pressing challenges, like food security.
  • To make all this a success, investment in Botswana’s farmers will be a critical area for the government to continue to finance.
  • I believe U.S.-Botswana partnership is at the core of this potential for success. Last month, the American Business Council in Botswana’s gastro-diplomacy event featured distinctively Botswana dishes and food products. It was a delightful opportunity to taste local products, including meats, morula, prickly pears, and peanuts.

What the United States is Doing

  •  The United States is proud to be the destination market targeted by a number of Botswana’s export-focused agricultural projects, from large-scale citrus to artisanal natural foods and products.
  • In May, I joined President Masisi at the airport to welcome 162 cattle from Texas to Botswana. The government’s decision to purchase these cattle focused on pathways to strengthen the genetics of Botswana’s national cattle herd. We were pleased to be the partner of choice, and we stand ready to assist in advancing that partnership.
  • I would also like to applaud the organizers of this conference, Meriting Conferences, for convening the impressive set of experts, farmers, financiers, and industry leaders that will exchange knowledge and agricultural best practices this week.
  • We are working to link U.S. regulators and Botswana’s agriculture officials to facilitate trade links that will, we hope, one day see Botswana citrus in American grocery stores.
  • Through the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, and its Prosper Africa initiative, the U.S. government has committed to increase food exports with and within Africa, which is urgently needed amidst the global food security crisis, made worse by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
  • Just last week, USAID’s African Trade and Investment Initiative finalized a grant investment in Organic Fertilizer Manufacturers of Botswana to scale up production – and importantly, employment – here in Botswana to address the regions need for agricultural inputs.
  • USAID’s funding call for Africa Food Security and Resilience Partnerships has a deadline this month as USAID seeks to rapidly address food insecurity and food systems resilience challenges on the African continent.
  • Whether on agricultural inputs, equipment, or enhance yields, we are investing in improving Botswana’s agricultural productive.
  • Announced during July’s U.S.-Africa Business Summit in Gaborone, the U.S. Embassy in Gaborone worked with USAID to facilitate a partnership between U.S. company Amazon Web Services and Botswana’s Choppies to help farmers bring their products to market and receive market value for their goods. We will continue to make matches to advance this important effort in Botswana.
  • The U.S. government is committed – now and in the years to come – to assisting Botswana in managing food security and climate risks.

Importance of Partnership

  • Like I said, we are proud to be Botswana’s partner as we work together toward an enhanced role for locally produced agricultural products.
  • To get there, agriculture research is a critical investment for food security, and I urge relevant research institutions and the government to expand efforts and investments in research and development of new agricultural technologies for climate change adaptation and mitigation.
  • Agricultural research can empower farmers with the knowledge and tools necessary to adapt to climate change and to optimize water usage, production, and quality.
  • The benefits of research have unmatched ripple effects in an economy.

Gazelle Ecosolutions

  • Partnership to address these concerns is essential. Take for example Gazelle Ecosolutions, which is a U.S. and Botswana registered company providing landowners with tools and solutions to increase farmers’ resilience to changing climatic conditions.
  • Gazelle Ecosolutions provides financial incentives to farmers, communities, and others to play a positive role in the fight against climate change. The company specializes in the implementation and management of carbon offset projects in grassland and savanna ecosystems.
  • We continue to be impressed by the technology and outcomes of U.S.-Botswana technology cooperation. When you have the chance this week, please have a conversation with Gazelle and see how you can unlock financial gains from your piece of land across Botswana.

Julie Howard

  • The U.S. Embassy, through U.S. Department of State’s U.S. Speakers Program, also connects American subject experts to foreign audiences on topics of strategic importance, such as food security.
  • It is a pleasure to have Dr. Julie Howard here in Gaborone to engage with you all and the government to bring her expertise on global food security, agricultural research, and youth employment.
  • She spoke on ‘Youth Engagement in Agriculture’ yesterday and participated on the just-concluded panel discussion on ‘Food Security in Africa.’
  • Thank you, Dr. Howard, for accepting our invitation to visit Botswana and for sharing your knowledge with us.
  • Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you will engage her, if not already, to tap into her agricultural research knowledge while she is here.