Deputy Permanent Secretary and FCB Board Chair Mr. Monggae; FCB CEO Mr. Moloi; FCB Board members and staff; FCB stakeholders; ladies and gentlemen:
Good morning. It’s a privilege and an honor for me to join you today at FCB’s 2015 Annual General Meeting (AGM), my first AGM as U.S. Ambassador to Botswana.
I would like to begin by saying a few words about the importance of FCB’s mission.
The organization’s purpose goes well beyond traditional forest management tasks. Your mission, effectively accomplished, will have a significant impact on the economic trajectory of your nation.
While diamonds can be said to have built the Botswana of today, ecotourism will likely be a primary engine powering the Botswana of tomorrow. The travel and tourism industry continues to surge worldwide and competition for international travelers will continue to sharpen. Demographic changes and large rising middle-classes have given many, many more people the means to travel abroad and to seek unique experiences. According to the most recent report from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), visitor exports (the measure of money spent by these international tourists) rose globally by 3.9% year on year to $1.3 trillion or Pula 13.8 trillion. WTTC reports in 2013, travel and tourism’s total contribution to the global economy rose to 9.5% of global GDP, and that this sector is outpacing not just the wider economy, but also growing faster than other significant sectors such as financial and business services, transport, and manufacturing. They forecast that this expansion has room to run, predicting global growth rates for the sector of over 4% annually over the next decade. I’m sure you have seen from your own international travels that many nations are carefully gearing up to profit from this huge opportunity.
There are varying estimates out there for the impact on Botswana, but it is clear by any measure that ecotourism is a significant contributor to both job creation and GDP. Botswana is truly blessed with a rich treasure of renewable natural gifts in your forests, the custodianship of which all of you may certainly take great and justified pride. But it will take careful planning, persistent local engagement, and a decades-long effort to ensure that your (and your grandchildren’s) treasures are not taken from you—to collect dust on a shelf or mixed into a potion or a cooked as a garnish for someone’s meal.
With so much potential growth and prosperity on the horizon, it will be vital to ensure that communities in tourism-reliant areas are completely invested in and supportive of the industry. As history teaches us world-wide, communities which do not feel the direct benefit of the natural resources they are charged with protecting tend to have little interest in conservation and often seek to reduce or eliminate wildlife populations and habitats that affect their livelihoods.
FCB efforts are aligning to help Botswana harness this potential. I’d like to congratulate the Government of Botswana for its decision to open the Chobe Forest Reserves and FCB’s subsequent approval of a Pula 10.8 million project for the development of the Chobe Forest Reserves Management Plan. Over the next two years, this plan will guide the future management of the reserves to ensure environmental sustainability and improvement of livelihoods by job creation from ecotourism activities;
I would also like to congratulate our new CEO, Mr. Joshua Moloi, and FCB Chairperson, Mr. Felix Monggae on their leadership of the FCB Strategic Plan for Sustainable Forests. As you know, these forests are invaluable carbon sinks for our planet.
Let me close by thanking the FCB staff and Board for your hard work and to reaffirm our continuing commitment as a partner in forest conservation.
Thank you again, your Excellency, for the opportunity to join you in this journey. Pula!