Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Kanye buffalo incursion should revive debate over beef industry liberisation

Early this week, the Ministry of Agriculture confirmed that some farmers around Moreane crush of Letlhakane East extension area near Kanye village spotted animals suspected to be buffaloes. 
At a press conference held mid this past week, Permanent Secretary in the Agriculture Ministry Boipolelo Khumomatlhare confirmed that indeed the Botswana Police joined the Department of Veterinary Services officials to start the search for the mysterious buffalo on the 11th April 2016 and before end of that day it had been located and gunned down. 
The sighting of a buffalo in the Zone 11 area, i.e. Kweneng, Kgatleng, Southern and South East Districts, and the ongoing investigations have necessitated the imposition of movement standstill in the zone. Furthermore, exports of beef to all trading partners were temporarily suspended, atleast by Friday. 
This development caused some sort of panic amongst our people more especially those who rely on cattle raring as a source of income. There is no doubt that cattle production remains vital in the economy of rural communities as a source of income, employment as well as investment opportunities. Socially, cattle production is seen as a sign of wealth. Elsewhere, the cattle industry contributes to the economy as a supplier of meat processing, leather and other related industry products. Apart from economical implications, the Kanye buffalo incursion caused panic among our people because most of them cannot survive for one day without meat. 
At a government level, the cattle industry continues to make a significant contribution to the domestic economy. Available statistics show that the industry comes third after diamonds and tourism as the country’s largest income earner. We therefore strongly believe that if the beef industry is the third largest income earner for our country, it then needs to be protected. 
The reoccurrence of the Foot and Mouth Disease continues to hurt the national economy because of the commerce built around the industry as it gets affected. The impact is huge as the government has to allocate a big budget for every outbreak in order to contain and eradicate it.
As such we need to rethink on how we guide the cattle industry to resist any future shocks. Given strict regulations from some of our trading partners, more especially those that BMC CEO Dr. Akolang Tombale would normally call “niche market”, it is imperative that we start looking elsewhere. Seeking alternative markets is a priority and one that may require some basic restructuring of the industry and associated legislation. 
It is quite evident that in recent years, BMC, which is the sole exporter of our beef, has also suffered from declining beef prices in its global market. As the throughput declined, the unit cost rose thus undermining the commission’s viability and its ability to pay competitive prices for cattle inputs hence prices paid to farmers also declined over time.  
Generally, the cattle industry, and in particular the BMC, has been in decline. Cattle farmers more especially those in the red zones such as Ngamiland have been getting poor deals as they only have access to two markets, BMC and local butcheries. As it stands, both communal and commercial farmers are not able to directly access more profitable export markets such as South Africa, where both cattle and beef fetch higher prices. 
The sighting of a buffalo in the Zone 11 area and the ongoing investigations should therefore be used as a start of point to debate and ultimately decide on the way forward for this rather important industry. As such, the now popular Kanye buffalo should get our legislatures to revisit the BMC Amendment Bill 2012 which was rejected a few years ago. 
Yes, a few years ago the then Agriculture Minister, Christian De Graaf, tabled a BMC Amendment Bill seeking to liberalize the beef industry. But his attempts were rejected by Parliament, who said the move would kill the ailing industry. We want to believe that parliament was not rejecting the amendments entirely. They wanted to protect farmers, more especially communal ones from predators who were waiting to “milk” this cash troubled parastatal.  
It is quite important that when we end the BMC monopoly, we should have regulations in place. This would block any selfish ambitions by any individuals who are always keeping their ears on the ground to take advantage of loopholes. 
The truth of the matter is that the existence of the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) as a state monopoly constrains investment, innovation and competition in the beef sector. As such the need to liberise the industry has never been so urgent. Obviously there are many ways we could go about it. Should we perhaps consider selling part of the commission to the farmers themselves (particle privitisation)? Already there is a school of thought that believes that government should aid farmers form a cooperative that would in turn buy part of BMC. This school of thought advocates for a model that Namibia uses through its beef export company, MeatCo. The ownership of MeatCo is vested in a cooperative (made up of farmers) with a majority shareholding of 70 percent, and the Namibian government remaining with 30 percent.
In the meantime, while we kick start a debate on what to do with our meat commission and beef industry, stakeholders in the agricultural sector and beef industry should pull together and get more enterprising. 

At the same time, whatever we decide to do with BMC we should ensure that communal farmers are not left in the lurch when the industry is liberalised or when there are new entrants in the market. The #Bottomline however is that we should start finding ways of making our people benefit more from their cattle since it seems sectors such as tourism have already landed in and controlled by selfish hands. 

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