Wednesday, September 23, 2020

BMC crisis is much more than just commercial, it is political

Just last week, Botswana Government announced that they have given Botswana Meat Commission just over P100 million to pay farmers.

We want to profusely thank Government for this gesture.

In the same vein it would be remiss or even irresponsible if we did not immediately highlight just how inadequate the money is.

We are not privy to the calculations and data that led to Government releasing the P100 million lifeboat. But from where we are only a ten-fold amount would be anywhere close to meeting the needs and also getting BMC back on its feet.

The issue besieging the BMC is not just limited to the business model, it goes to the root cause of why farmers are reluctant to directly interface with BMC.

It has got to with the fact that owing to cashflow, BMC has literally abandoned the very reason why it was established way before independence.

Big farmers, obviously taking their cue from numerous consultants who know nothing about Botswana’s peculiar farming dynamics like to wail at BMC as being a monopoly. Nothing is farther far from the truth.

When they talk about seeking to be allowed to export, these big farmers are doing nothing more than self-serving.

They do not have at heart a subsistence farmer who keeps a few of their animals in a communal area.

BMC was created to take care of this farmer.

As individuals, these farmers have very few animals.

But as a collective, they account to over 85% of animal supply to the BMC.

Even if the country’s beef industry was to be liberalized tomorrow and everybody allowed to export their beef products to wherever they so wished, the current troubles facing small farmers would not be solved.

BMC was not created for baron farmers.

It was created for small farmers. Hence BMC problems are by far the problems of small farmers.

The trouble with the P100 million above is that it will be depleted before it reaches these small farmers because the BMC model forces it to give priority to feedlot owners.

By the time the P100 million is finished, the small farmers will still be hanging dry.

In fact the big likelihood is that by the time BMC has disbursed it, not even a tiny fraction of it would have reached the people who matter most in the beef industry value chain ÔÇô the communal and subsistence farmers.

These are people who today have been forced into the merciless clutches of feedlot owners.

These are people who sell  a few of their animals to feedlots because BMC is either too far away or because owing to a new culture of late payments, they are simply scared to sell to BMC.

The feedlot owners, instead of passing money to subsistence farmers who supply them with cattle, the temptation is always to give priority to creditors that include banks, feed suppliers, vaccine suppliers and machinery suppliers.

The majority of these subsistence farmers are poor people who stay in the rural areas.

We all know that these form the bulk of voters especially for the ruling Botswana Democratic Party.

By abandoning them to the mercy of the feedlot owners, the BDP Government is effectively shooting itself on the foot.

Somewhat wrongly, those in power seem to think that the BMC issue is only a commercial matter.

The truth though is that it is more of a much bigger political matter.

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The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.