At a recent kgotla meeting, farmers and residents of Maun expressed anger and loss of both hope and patience at numerous Foot and Mouth Disease meetings, which they often get called to attend.
The residents said the meetings have not yielded anything of note, adding that despite their concerns, the responses they always get from officials have never borne fruits as the same promises are now even contradicted by the very people who were selected as representatives from the various farmer’s associations here to advocate for them.
Residents muted selecting a delegation to confront President Ian Khama and voice their concerns after the area was hit by FMD, but the group has reportedly been divided as some claim they are never consulted on any developments, and that part of them decided to go to the Office of the President without them knowing.
Prior to the kgotla meeting, there had been a similar meeting earlier attended by among others, the Chief Executive Officer of the Botswana Meat Commission, Dr Akolang Tombale, National Development Bank CEO, officials from the Department of Veterinary Services and farmers.
Management at Maun BMC was requested by Simon Bojosi, the chairman of the North West Integrated Farmer’s Association (NWIFA) to show cause why they cannot be brought before a court of law to answer for charges of fraud after farmers discovered that they had been overcharged in the transportation of their cattle from their crushes to the abattoir.
He said the realization came after they had benchmarked with farmers from Zone 7 (Bobirwa area) and the North East, both of which are also affected by FMD and learnt that they had been swindled as farmers from the two areas pay way below what they are charged in the whole of Ngamiland.
“We believe that what you did on the innocent and unsuspecting people is obtaining by false pretence which, you know, is punishable by law. You took advantage of the fact that they are in a desperate situation and stole from them, and so we feel we have a case against you,” said Bojosi. “We are thankful that your CEO is here today, as he will be able to get first hand information on how you ill-treat your customers. Some people have been paying a mere P375 per head whereas you have been charging us P650, which is why we want you to pay back the difference and follow right procedures, failing which we will force you to do the right thing.”
Bojosi also said they had lost confidence in the office of the plant manager, which has never been honest in its dealings with farmers.
He said whenever they sold their cattle, their money was automatically deducted by the NDB even though they have never signed any agreement with the latter to do so, adding that they are never even issued with receipts as proof of payment whenever their money would have been deducted.
The other concern was why, even after qualifying, Ngamiland meat cannot be sold to European markets.
In response, Maun NDB branch manager, Colleen Phiri, said BMC is duty bound to retrieve all monies owed to the bank as stated in the Agricultural Charges Act. She said whenever there is proof that the BMC has made any deductions, they (NDB) always issues clearance letters, and that they only issue receipts if payments had been directed to the bank. The farmers had been advanced loans with the bank with the agreement that for every beast sold, the bank would deduct a total of P1, 500 to repay the loan.
On the issue of Ngamiland meat not penetrating foreign markets, BMC CEO Akolang Tombale said that they had managed to negotiate markets in neighboring Zimbabwe and South Africa, but added that because of the long distance, the buyers preferred Zone 7 as it is nearer.
“Yours is sold locally as most of it goes to the cannery. It is not that you are being discriminated as you allege. As we speak, a total of 354 cattle have been bought in Zone 7 alone and hopefully they will continue buying as we are yet to meet for further talks,” said Tombale. “We had also negotiated markets from Angola, but we were not successful as they made it clear that they want to buy from EU catchment areas. You are also free to help source markets as well as investors, after which DVS will facilitate the whole process.”
Maun BMC was, however, not content with accusations of fraud leveled against them. Its plant manager, Mothobi Mothobi, said he had, from time to time, made it clear that BMC does not in any way have a say in the transportation of cattle.
“I have said it time and again at almost all forums that transportation is between farmers and transporters. What we do as BMC is to facilitate payments after transporters would have submitted their various prices which we always display for public viewing,” said Mothobi. “Their trucks are also inspected by DVS and not us. What farmers do then is to come and choose for themselves whichever transporter they feel comfortable with. For some time also we were not responsible for the transportation to Zimbabwe. But because their trucks were too small to accommodate the number of cattle, we ended up advertising and calling for local transporters to assist because the welfare and safety of these cattle remain our responsibility until they reach the agreed destination. Those who qualified have since started collecting, this goes to show how flexible and transparent we are as you are also free to do same.”