Testimony from a parliamentary committee investigating the Botswana Meat Commission may have revealed it to be little more than a cesspool of organised crime fed by an Anglo-Boer mafia but the Commission has been described as one of the best “examples of success with science and technology application in African agriculture.”
“The strength of agriculture in Africa can also be looked at from the perspective of the multitude of successful agricultural initiatives that the continent has experienced in the immediate past,” says an African Development Bank report titled “Inclusive Growth: An imperative for African Agriculture.” In the case of Botswana, it says that despite being agriculturally ill-endowed, the country managed to develop a modern beef-exporting industry as the backbone of its economy.
Established in 1965 when cattle farming was the only real source of income for most of the population, BMC is solely responsible for the slaughter and marketing of all beef exports from Botswana. Over the years the Commission has had mixed fortunes and last year a parliamentary committee was appointed to investigate its operations. As a parade of witnesses (including former president, Sir Ketumile Masire) testified, it became clear that there has been a collapse of corporate governance at the parastatal organisation. The bank’s report doesn’t concern itself with this particular aspect but that Botswana created a booming export sector out of nothing. BMC’s uniqueness is that unlike in other countries, communal farmers can gain access to the international market through it. Everywhere else it would be impossible for a communal farmer to send one cow to the European Union but that is possible in Botswana. Another success story from Botswana that the report mentions is the Pandamatenga Agriculture Infrastructure Development Project where 27,600 hectares of productive land were provided with drainage and farm access roads.
“Project-based studies including those from on-farm research, natural resources surveys, irrigation feasibility and design consultancies have provided vast knowledge for agriculture production enhancement,” it says. The report doesn’t mention this but one other agricultural success in Botswana is the control of foot-and-mouth disease.Having gained plentiful experience of fighting this disease over a long period of time, Botswana’s veterinary services are more advanced and effective than even those in some western nations.
While it might take two weeks to respond to a suspected outbreak in the United Kingdom, Botswana has a rapid-response team that would do that instantly. The bank has useful recommendations for countries like Botswana which have large populations of the rural poor and are trying to alleviate poverty. It says that while Africa has been experiencing remarkable economic growth (real GDP growth has risen by more than twice its pace in the last decade), most of the benefits of the high growth rates achieved over the last few years have not reached the rural poor. In order to uplift the poor, the bank recommends that states should concentrate on developing agriculture because it is the one economic activity that they depend on.
“The majority of Africa’s poor are engaged in agriculture, a sector which supports the livelihoods of 90 percent of Africa’s population. The sector also provides employment for about 60 percent of the economically active population, and 70 percent of the continent’s poorest communities,” the bank says.