The loss making Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) has wasted more than P30 million on tons of spoiled sorghum grains, which are now lying unsold in the national silos.
Although BAMB Chief Executive Officer Masego Mphathi has denied the allegations, Sunday Standard investigations revealed that the marketing board bought 27 500 metric tonnes of sorghum at a total cost of $5 431 250, (approximately P34 987 064.69.) The Sunday Standard has further established that at nearly all the BAMB branches there are considerable quantities of stocks of grains at issue.
The troubled BAMB is also battling with the backlash from millers who are worried that the spoiled sorghum is spoiling their business goodwill.
“Of late, the millers have been returning the grain in the form of sorghum meal which had been rejected by their customers, and they now fear that the problem might tarnish their business reputations,” said one of the employees, who declined to be named.
When confronted with the reports, Mphathi said: “The 27 500mt included 10 000mt of Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR) for national food security. This means that BAMB had 17 500mt as commercial stock, with 15 500mt having been sold to date.” In addition, he said, “This product has been doing well as indicated by figures of what has already been sold. BAMB has not made losses from selling this product.”
He further said that towards the end of January 2008, Agro-processors returned sorghum meal from their imported sorghum alleging that it had an unusual smell. According to Mphathi, it was found on enquiry that the meal that was returned was derived from sorghum from one of BAMB silo bins in Francistown. However, the majority of complaints pointed to the possibility of the grain having been on sale within a distinct time frame at the Gaborone West branch, which made them suspect that it may have come from a particular batch that was delivered within that time.
“To established the cause of the alleged smell in the sorghum that was returned, we decided to give the samples from all our silos to the National Food Technology Center (NFTEC) for two reasons: First, to establish the cause of the alleged smell in the returned sorghum, and, secondly, to prove for the second time that this sorghum is good for human consumption,” said Mphathi. He said that they have previously had the grain tested and awarded Phytosanitary and Quality Certificates that affirmed its fitness for human consumption.
To highlight the seriousness of the problem, an article in The Daily News dated 12 February 2008, titled ‘Public decries bad sorghum meal taste’ reported, “About 1 953 bags of sorghum meal were returned to BAMB towards end of last month over complaints of bad taste and smell.” The report further reads, “Some retail shops in Kanye said they have returned brands including Seboana and Serala, after members of the public complained they do not have their usual taste and have developed unusual odour.”
Despite the Daily News report and insider’s allegations Mphathi maintains denial.
“Even as we speak, the grains are still lying in the silos, both in Francistown and Pitsane,” said an impeccable source.
Agatha Ellwood, owner of Peo Ya Sechaba, is one of the victims. Ellwood said that BAMB is supposed to provide food for Batswana, and its biggest buyers are millers in Botswana. She said that due to the poor service they get from BAMB, in January 2007, they wrote a letter as a Confederation of Mill Owners, to the Ministry of Agriculture seeking to be allowed to purchase sorghum grains outside the country since they are not happy with the sorghum from BAMB.
“Unfortunately, we never got any response,” she said.
As BAMB customers, Ellwood said they had expected BAMB to consult them before purchasing but they did not.
“They went on and purchased these 27 500 mt of sorghum grain and parked it in their poorly maintained silos which somehow contributed by making the grain go from bad to worse,” she said.
In response, Mphathi explained that the acquisition of stock is an internal business decision, whether a purchase is made locally or from outside the country.
“In 2006, there was a general shortage of sorghum grain in the Southern African region due to poor harvest and we were compelled to import. The sorghum in question was the best available product at the time,” he stated.
“After we found out that these grains were not good for human consumption, we then suggested that this sorghum be sold as cattle fodder but instead BAMB decided to reduce the price from P121/3 to P94.
“We were wondering what message they were trying to put across, because our brands were losing big time,” stated Ellwood.
Responding to this, Mphathi denied ever getting such suggestion from the Confederation of Mill Owners. He said standard procedures to test whether this sorghum was good for human consumption were followed.
“The sorghum was passed as fit for human consumption. The reason for reducing the sorghum price was because the current stock they had was getting old; as such, they aimed to clear it before the next harvest season so as to replenish it with new grain,” he explained.
Though Mphati denied ever getting this proposition to sell these grains as cattle fodder, Sunday Standard’s sources from the Francistown branch revealed that sorghum meal returned by Millers was sent to the Francistown branch to be sold as cattle fodder.
“We were told that one of the farmers would come and buy this for his cows. Surprisingly, he didn’t come and these bags are still in our branch,” he stated.
According to Ellwood, BAMB has previously agreed with the Milling Companies that if there is something wrong with the grains, buyers will be fully refunded.
“Till now, BAMB hasn’t refunded us. They have long told us that they are still doing their calculations,” said Ellwood.
Reacting to this, Mphathi said, “We have replaced stock for cash customers and credited accounts for credit customers.”
Despite Mphati claiming that BAMB refunded its customers, TOM Pty Ltd owner, Tshireletso Maribe, who sells Seboana, told this paper that they had not been refunded and are still waiting. An anonymous source from the BAMB accounts department confirmed to this paper that no one had been refunded.
“If they were refunded, we would have been the first people to know because we are the ones who handle this.”
In the BAMB 2007 annul report, a net loss of P3 541 805 was registered, compared to the net profit of P1 020 986 in 2006. Asked if this sorghum in question could have contributed to this, Mphathi denied.