SeedCo came under heavy fire on Thursday as opposition Members of Parliament slammed the private company of fraudulently conducting business with the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) by selling the parastatal seeds at high prices.
A privately owned company, SeedCo, predominantly sells maize and sorghum seeds to BAMB and the ordinary farmers – the former at high prices because it is government owned and the latter at low prices because they are ordinary farmers, according to the MPs.
“We are not hiding anything. BAMB and SeedCo are private and independent entitled to conduct their own contract of business of their own choice,” argued the Assistant Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security Kgotla Autlwetse in Parliament, parrying questions from opposition MP for Gaborone North Haskins Nkaigwa who is worried government is being fraudulently abused under the contract between the two institutions.
Autlwetse reminded them that BAMB is a parastatal not a private entity.
He was not aware of the fraudulent development, promising to investigate the matter and proper disciplinary meted out should the probe point to a deliberate action.
A bag of 10kg maize is prized at P650 for government while the same content goes for P200 for ordinary farmers, according to Nkaigwa.
The amount spent annually buying seeds for Integrated Support Programme for Arable Development cropping seasons is P20 million for 2012/13 season, Autlwetse said.
For the year 2013/14 it was P27 million while for 2014/15 it was P29 million.
For the 2016/17 the amount skyrocketed to P22 082 000 even though the season is still on-going.
Government initiated social intervention with ISPAAD which aims to boost the country’s flagging food security dependent on neighbouring South Africa for basic commodity such as maize and sorghum by offering free seeds to ordinary farmers during the ploughing season.
Besides SeedCo, ZAM Seed and Cross Corn are the main producers and supplies of seeds to BAMB.
For the year 2012/13 SeedCo obtained a share of 12 percent of tender award and 75 percent during the 2013/14 season.
BAMB provided 35 percent and 8 percent for the year 2014/15 and 2015/16 respectively.
“The rest came from our seed multiplication unit and other suppliers through coupons,” Autlwetse said, adding “we are still collecting information on the total seeds used during 2016/17 cropping season.”
He revealed that his Ministry did not prescribe to farmers and distributing agents where to source the inputs through the coupon system.
The amount supplied by the manufacturers varies from year to year depending on marketing strategies, availability of seeds and farmers preferences.
“Presently we have registered about 154 distributing agents who are at liberty to source seeds from any seed manufacturer both locally and externally(Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Malawi and as far as Australia),” Autlwetse said.
He was not aware of any monopoly enjoyed by SeedCo in supplying local dealers and BAMB as the market is open to all seed companies provided they are registered in Botswana.
“It is worth noting that seed dealers and individual farmers have the right of choice to buy stock from any seed company or supplier of their preference,” Autlwetse maintained.
As a control measure to prevent overpricing of inputs, the Assistant Minister insisted on prices against prevailing market ones on annual basis before beginning of each cropping season, promising to continue capping prices to avoid price inflation by input suppliers and companies.
Autlwetse refused to name the directors of SeedCo let alone other main suppliers.
He denied government involvement in the business dealings as both SeedCo and BAMB are private and independent entities as such reserving the right to run their operations privately.
Sunday Standard could not establish the owners of SeedCo at the time of going to press.