Botswana’s small hold live stock sector produces most of the country’s beef for internal and export markets.
Statistics show that small stock farmers contribute well over 70percent of the country’s agricultural produce.
There is a recorded total of 100, 000 small hold farmers, most of whom depend on farming for their livelihoods as they rear most of the country’s cattle, goats, chickens and sheep.
However, the competitiveness of small holder livestock farmers has always been in doubt. Challenges like market access, economics of animal health, role of collective action and government’s role in provision of livestock support services all have an influence on the competitiveness of small livestock farmers. A snapshot survey conducted in the two villages of Taupye and Thabala indicated that farmers sell their cattle at either Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) or local butcheries, with a few selling to speculators and agents. The survey was conducted by the Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA) in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the International livestock research institute (ILRI).
It revealed difficulties in getting sales permits for cattle sales due to non-availability of veterinary service staff.
Technical difficulties with the bolus were also found to be a real constraint. Another problem that was identified was preference by farmers to keep cattle into advanced age and the requisition by BMC for delivery to collection points rather than at farm gates. Disease prevalence in smallholder livestock systems was also rampant.
“Government purchase programs from the BMC are still a monopoly and thus provide fixed prices for livestock, whilst unscrupulous traders and feedlot owners exploit farmers and offer them very low prices, possibly because they may act as agents for BMC and so extract a margin,” reads the report. “Butchers also exploit farmers by offering immediate cash payment at low prices (around P3000 per head for cattle) generally irrespective of age.”
Presenters argued that despite efforts by BMC to promote and reward beef quality, the message seems not to be reaching producers.
“This prevents good decision making topics such as timing of sales, and it upsets negotiations. Loss of the European Union (EU) market has also harmed the economy as cattle sales are our second largest foreign exchange earner,” said Patrick Malope of BIDPA.
He also mentioned that lack of fenced land and prohibition of integrated farming are also huge impediments. Other constraints identified by Malope include animal disease and poor access to drugs and remedies, land and water shortages, high transport costs and poor access to improved breeds.
“Many of these issues are targets of substantial public expenditure. So their recurrence among farmers’ grievances is of concern,” he concluded.
An international conference was hosted in Gaborone this week with the aim of defining small holder livestock production systems to identify factors that affect productivity of small holder livestock producers and asses their competitiveness. Presenters included a panel of researchers, experts’ policy makers and development partners from across Southern Africa. Delegates discussed agricultural food production and marketing and participants included national and international researchers, academics and development partners with an interest in strengthening the capacity of agricultural education and extension as well as improving livelihoods.