The Ministry of Agriculture is worried at the looming collapse of Botswana’s poster dairy project as Batswana students who were on a dairy farming scholarship sponsored by Lobatse based Milk Africa are pulling out of the project in droves and returning back to Botswana.
The project which has so far failed to live up to its billing was expected to wean Botswana off its reliance on imported milk. The ministry of Agriculture confirmed this week that it is investigating circumstances surrounding the unexpected return of five employees who were sent to USA to study dairy farming.
It is understood that the employees were stranded in the United States of America after falling out with their sponsor claiming that they were subjected to sweatshop conditions in America. Efforts by Botswana Embassy in the USA to convince the employees to reconcile with Milk Africa and not to terminate their scholarships failed and more students as expected home in the near future as they continue to terminate their scholarships.
Milk Africa management also flew to America to try and persuade the students not to cancel their scholarships, but their efforts did not bear fruits.The project is a partnership between Lobatse Town Council, Ministry of Agriculture and Milk Africa. At the centre of the dispute between Batswana students and the sponsor are complaints by the trainee dairymen that they were subjected to intensive hard labour and their allowances cut without consultations. The students then approached the Botswana Embassy in Washington to assist them with funds for return flight tickets, but their request was rejected. At least five students managed to convince their families to buy them return flight tickets. Some of the students who have also terminated their scholarship are expected home soon.
The ministry’s spokesperson Boikhutso Rabasha said “It is true that five employees of the Ministry of Agriculture, who were sent to the United States of America for studies by Milk Africa in conjunction with us (MOA) returned in June 2016.”
She said the ministry is investigating circumstances that led to the employees quitting studies and return home. Those who returned are all back at work.
Contacted for comment, Lobatse Town Council Clerk Boikhutso Matenge said her office has requested a meeting with relevant officials at the Ministry of Agriculture to try and establish what could have led to the problem.
“At this juncture I am not at liberty to make any further comments until I have gathered facts regarding their return,” she said.