The Botswana Meat Commission stands at very high risk of losing out on the lucrative European market that was recently availed by the revised Economic Partnership Agreements with the European Union. Information reaching The Sunday Standard indicates that the EU is beginning to doubt the capacity and reliability of BMC to supply adequate quality beef as the corporation has for the last 5 years consistently failed to satisfy their insatiable demand for beef which presently stands at close to 19 000 tons per year.
While the EPAs are still to be finalized, the interim agreements have opened floodgates and provided Botswana goods, including beef, with unlimited access to the EU markets. However, BMC has for the last 5 years consistently failed to meet the EU demand only managing a paltry 9947 tons in 2003, 10 878 tons in 2004, 9192 tons in 2005, 7816 tons in 2006 and 13062 tons in 2007.
BMC’s General Manager for Marketing, Sonny Molapisi, recently admitted to The Sunday Standard that BMC stands at very high risk of losing credibility with the EU because of their continued failure to meet market demands, a development that has debilitating economic ramifications that could cripple the operations of the corporation.
”This continued inability to use up the EU quota can be interpreted as a failure and could, logically speaking, result in a portion of the quota being allocated to another country,” he said.
Molapisi also explained that BMC has consistently failed to meet the EU quotas because local farmers continue to supply them with a limited number of cattle citing a number of factors, chief among them being that farmers feel that the corporation has for a long time given them a raw deal by offering uncompetitive and unsatisfactory prices for their cattle. There are also indications that quite a large number of local farmers have abandoned cattle farming for game farming as the latter is said to be more lucrative.
A stand off over prices continues to ravage the operations of the BMC, with farmers saying they are paid very little for their cattle while the BMC maintains that their prices are very competitive. Molapisi was quick to quash these allegations saying that the challenge lies upon the farmers to step up the plate and strive to produce and supply BMC with adequate quality beef. He maintained that BMC pays very well and their payments are on par with those of neighbouring countries like Namibia and South Africa.
BMC continues to maintain that the introduction of export parity pricing has resulted in more farmers pocketing large quantities of money for their cattle, and cattle farming has once again become a very profitable commercial endeavor as prices have doubled from around P1350 per head to an average of P2500 an animal.
Molapisi also noted that export parity pricing has had a positive impact in that more farmers are now taking their cattle to BMC. “The number of cattle slaughtered in 2007 had greatly improved on that of previous years,” he said.
He also explained that BMC’s continued failure to meet the EU quotas was not limited to issues of cattle prices only as there are other underlying quality factors one of them being that cattle farming has not been adequately commercialized in Botswana.
”It is also our view that though cattle farming is important to the economy of Botswana and supports rural communities, it is not adequately commercialized,” he said.
He also added that their interactions with farmers have revealed that a number of them have cited the absence of suitable infrastructure as an impediment to commercial farming.
”The absence of suitable roads, telecommunication and electricity, which are key to any commercial undertaking, discourages serious farming on commercial lines,” he said.
The issue of communal farming, which is very common in Botswana, also came up as Molapisi said that BMC is of the view that farming in a communal area is also not good for good quality production.
While the General Manager agrees with those who advocate for traditional communal grazing lands to be converted into commercial farms, he cautioned that it would be pointless to fence up pieces of land and call them farms if the management and farming practice do not conform to commercial challenges.
Molapisi also said that farmers should not only concentrate on the numbers of cattle that they supply to BMC but must also strive to improve the quality of beef as it will work to improve their returns.
“Farmers should target to supply young and heavy cattle with adequate finish if they are to maximize their returns,” he said.