Cattle raising and the export of beef and other cattle products and subsistence farming are the chief agricultural activities. The country's water shortage and consequent lack of sufficient irrigation facilities have hampered agriculture, and only a small percentage of the land is under cultivation. Sorghum, corn, millet, and beans are the principal subsistence crops, and peanuts, sunflowers, and cotton are the main cash crops.
Mining has become the country's economic mainstay since independence. The only known minerals in the country at the time of independence were manganese and some gold and asbestos, but significant diamond, coal, nickel, and copper deposits have since been found, as well as salt, soda ash, and potash. Botswana's diamond mines collectively make up one of the largest diamond reserves in the world, with stones mined by the government and a South African mining concern; Botswana now is also a diamond processing center. The revenue earned from diamonds has underwritten national health-care and educational programs, and now drives Botswana's economy. The vast coal deposits are also being worked. Deposits of antimony, sulfur, plutonium, and platinum have also been found.
Although Botswana's mineral wealth has made it one of the wealthiest nations of S Africa, high unemployment remains a problem. The government is attempting to diversify the economy by building up other sectors, including safari-based tourism and financial services. Botswana, because of its landlocked position, remains heavily dependent on South Africa, which provides port facilities. Many Botswanans work in South Africa's mines, although their numbers have diminished. There are rail and road links with South Africa and Zimbabwe, its chief trade partners. Besides minerals, Botswana exports meat and textiles. Imports include foodstuffs, machinery, electrical goods, transportation equipment, textiles, fuel, petroleum products, wood, paper, and metal.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.