Once when (perhaps) feeling peckish, the late newspaper publisher, William Jones, rhapsodised about the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) canned beef. Jones, who founded Botswana Guardian, The Midweek Sun and Echo also happened to know a fellow Gaborone-based Briton who packed cans upon cans of the beef (Ecco) when he visited the United Kingdom.
Botswana beef got another thumbs-up from a Brit last Monday when the EU delegation to Botswana hosted a day-long seminar for journalists at Sanitas Nursery and Garden Centre in Gaborone. In the course of a presentation on European Union trade relations with Botswana and the economic partnership agreements, John Taylor, happened to mention that Botswana beef has a “unique taste”. Taylor, a United Kingdom national who is Trade Counsellor at the Europe Delegation to Botswana, added though that most people in Europe don’t know about Botswana beef and that if the branding of the product was developed to the desirable standard, “its price would go up.”
The under-marketing of Botswana beef would be a second problem layer to one that already exists ÔÇô failure to meet the EU quota. Ever since the start of the Cotonou Agreement, Botswana has never satisfied its export quota to the EU and in some instances, the reason has been measles. Addressing a kgotla meeting in Kanye late last year, the Minister of Agriculture, Patrick Ralotsia, said that measles was a major challenge to the export beef industry. This meeting was held around Christmas time when multitudes typically troop to the ploughing fields and cattleposts and participate either as singers or spectators in open-air choral competitions. With no sanitation facilities being provided, people at these events relieve themselves in the bush, carpeting the pasturelands with the F-word human waste which is then consumed by cattle that would later be sold to the BMC. Farmers themselves don’t help the situation by failing to build toilets at their cattleposts. In 2013, BMC’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Akolang Tombale, told a press briefing that the Commission had lost close to P73 million due to measles.
That the EU is the primary market for Botswana’s beef also doesn’t sit well with some people (economists and farmers included) who have called on the BMC to diversify to African and Asian markets. One concern that this group has expressed is that the cost of meeting EU standards is egregiously high. In the period of his stewardship, Dr. Motshudi Raborokgwe, who came before Tombale, said that complying with the EU export regulatory requirements was taking a toll on the Commission.
Following an EU directive which made it mandatory for beef exported to its markets to be identifiable and traceable from farm to fork through a computerised system, Botswana introduced the costly livestock identification and traceback system (LITS) in 1999. A study by the Botswana College of Agriculture (renamed the Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources) found that the imposed financial burden was almost the size of the 2009 budget for social safety net programmes in Botswana.
“If money spent on the LITS project were to be re-directed towards poverty alleviation programmes, the mean annual household consumption expenditure from government transfers through [social safety nets] would at least double and reduce the incidence of poverty in the country,” says the study.
It turns out though that BMC has also performed the same kind of analysis and EU still emerged as the most attractive market. The second most important BMC market after the EU is South Africa which serves as the second benchmark. The price difference between the two markets is 54 percent. The one other advantage is that as an EU-listed abattoir, BMC can sell its beef anywhere in the world. For this reason, it is in BMC’s interest to preserve this advantage and use it to diversify to other lucrative markets.