Scores of Batswana in rural areas who were hoping to benefit from the proposed Zambezi Integrated Agro-Commercial Development in the Chobe area face an uncertain future as the project may fold even before it commences.
Still smarting from failures of mega national projects such as Morupule B power Station and Palapye Glass Project among others, government is reported to be reluctant to give the project the green light.
Government is also reported to be uncomfortable with the project because it has
attracted companies with a checkered background. There are even claims that some companies had lobbied officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Finance to help them secure the tender through a single source tender process.
Responding to Sunday Standard queries, Principal Agricultural Information and Public Relations Officer Geoffrey Pheko expressed mixed feelings as to whether the project would go ahead as planned.
He said the project is to be implemented as Private Public Partnership (PPP) established under Ministry of Agriculture.
“But still at this moment, it has not been decided that the project should go ahead,” he said.
Sunday Standard has also unearthed information indicating that the government has secretly abolished the Agric Hub which was aimed at providing a catalyst for greater commercialisation and diversification of agriculture. The project formed part of the Agricultural Hub. The feasibility study for the project has been completed and it recommended growing eight crops being; sorghum, beans, sunflower, maize, cotton, wheat, soybean alfalfa and mango. The study was conducted by an Italian company, Studio Gallli Ingegneria (SGI).
It was also aimed at determining bottlenecks and opportunities available for the development of small scale and commercial farming in the area. The study was conducted mostly on the field utilizing the action-research methodology, involving local stakeholder in order to determine the best model for an inclusive, active participation of the local community.
However it emerged that the government has since excluded the community from participating in the project and it was a subject of intense debate recently at Chobe District Council.
The construction of the project was expected to be completed by 2020. The feasibility study estimated project cost of the investment at P3.8 billion over six years without the cost of pipeline, with maintenance costs of P200 million annually including power and irrigation facilities.
Pheko said the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security has been working on the various models of financing the project; the most favorable and recommended being a PPP model.
“The time to select a potential PPP partner/s would take more than 2 to 3 years from now until a financial close. With this in mind, if the project will go ahead, at least five years will be required to get the implementation of the project to commence,” he said.
According to the study conducted by SGI, the assignment comprised three distinctive components: agriculture and related water infrastructure development as well as environmental and social impact assessment. The overall objective of the study was to “establish a viable commercial agricultural development, which will improve Botswana’s food security, diversify agriculture, meaningfully contribute to the country’s GDP and create direct employment for over 4,000 people.”