The Botswana Ostrich Farmers Association said the struggling ostrich industry can take a leaf from the beef industry, which is sustained mainly by subsistence farmers in a country where farming is still taken as a hand to mouth business.
BOFA, an organisation representing domestic farmers advised ahead of a Pitso next week that while commercial production is recommended, the industry can learn from the local beef industry which thrived despite limited commercial producers.
“Subsistence cattle farmers have been pivotal to the success of the beef industry and this challenges the perception that the ostrich industry is exclusive; therefore all Batswana regardless of economic status can play a role in the development of this industry,” BOFA Assistant Secretary Valentine Dube said in an e-mailed statement on Friday.
While Botswana has organised farmers, especially in Ghanzi areas, many still sell their cattle to Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) to pay for school fees, service debt and many still rear cattle for prestige.
The ostrich industry on the other hand is on its knees despite government’s investment in an attempt to prop up farmers and capacitate them to reach the lucrative European Union (EU) market. There were also efforts by Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) to help the industry by financing farmers, but most of them failed to service the loans that ran into millions of Pula.
Former CEDA Chief Executive Officer once described the severity of the problem by revealing that “actually the birds were feeding on humanitarian grounds”.
BOFA, which has positioned itself as a catalyst to the development of the industry as a whole admitted that government, has tried to assist the industry in the past.
“The government of Botswana has over the years made advances in creating an enabling environment for the industry, these include the establishment of Dibete Ostrich Multiplication Unit (DOMU) to supply services and products to the ostrich industry, construction of an EU approved abattoir, current apportionment of incubator ostrich farms as well as the provision of able technical support through the Ministry of Agriculture”.
“The Association has undertaken initiatives that seek to build its capacity in order to improve service delivery to its stakeholders, chiefly the producers.”
Although Botswana comparatively has a large bird population, commercial production of ostriches in Botswana is least, behind regional producers such as South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe as well as exotic producers such as China, Europe and America.
“Although market prices for ostrich products are given to fluctuations, prevailing conditions favour local production since South Africa, the major producer responsible for approximately 70% of global production had its fresh products banned from the EU markets,” revealed BOFA.
Next week, BOFA is hosting the Leadership and Business Development workshop at Sebele aimed at building capacity of ostrich farmers and those interested in the industry.
The 3 day workshop (19th -21st January) is supported by the Department of Management, University of Botswana and it will bring together stakeholders including Ministry of Agriculture, Ostrich farmers and aspiring farmers to discuss ways on how to stimulate the ostrich industry in Botswana.
Critics say the problem with the ostrich industry is that there was no market survey done before establishing the abattoir. There are also conflicting statistics on the number of birds in the country with some estimates revealing there are between 3000-4000 domesticated birds and 60000-70000 wild ones.
The Department of Wildlife and National Parks’s aerial surveys in 1994 estimated Botswana’s wild ostrich population to be about 60 000 with the largest population being in north-western Kgalagadi and south-west Ngamiland.
The farmers had in the past complained about the prices charged per kilogram by the abattoir which they said affected their profit margins as they spend more in raising the birds.