The Minister of Agriculture, Johnie Swartz, on Tuesday appealed to cattle producers who are in the meat industry and to those who want to engage in the business to consider making use of the opportunities that the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) avails.
“These opportunities include the expansion of the meat industry through broader citizen participation in operating their own abattoirs and processing facilities which could be of export standard,” he said.
Swartz made the plea while officiating at a two-day national consultative stakeholder’s workshop on review of the Botswana Meat Commission Act. The purpose of the workshop was to have a dialogue and to solicit ideas from all relevant players in the livestock and meat industry.
“World Trade is another issue of great concern, which is taking a shift in liberalization,” he stated, adding that the SADC region, through the SCA Trade Protocol, is gradually phasing out non tariff barriers. He said the international community, through the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, is also phasing out barriers to trade, including trade in commodities such as beef and its products.
“There is non responsiveness of our sector to the opportunities and only to cry foul when we face challenges.” Swartz said the opportunities, such as access to the European Union through the quota, were intended to develop the agricultural industry since the barriers to trade are being removed. The industry, he said, must remain competitive.
“Botswana is now responding positively to the weaner production system and the improved pricing at the BMC.” He said the EU has already informed Botswana of their offer of a quota free, and duty free access into their market.
Dr Howard Sigwele, who addressed the workshop participants on the Role of the Beef Industry, reminded producers to take into account the broader development and implication of other sectors when reviewing this Act.
“With globalization and trade integration on our door step, the livestock industry is one sector in which we could compete internationally,” he stated.
Though the beef industry is a sensitive one, Sigwele said it can compete very well with other countries as it does not need a lot of production.
Dr Raborokgwe, speaking on behalf of the BMC Chief Executive Officer, said that the BMC Act that was being reviewed gave birth to BMC. He said it had provided farmers with reliable markets and given them a voice on their cattle.
“Though the European Union (EU) has been a small player, they punched well above our weight. We have managed to build two world-class abattoirs which can compete with the best world abattoirs,” he said, adding that the government eventually wishes to privatize the BMC and this act amendment is to prepare the BMC for that.
Speaking on behalf of his association, Moffat Mbaakanyi, the Chairman of the Meat Trading and Processors Association, said that the Act had outlived its usefulness and it was time for it to be modified so as to level the playing field. Mbaakanyi said it must be recognized that the Meat Traders and Processors contributed sufficiently to the country’s gross domestic products. “The fact that we account for 50 percent of the annual slaughtered livestock sold in the domestic market should be considered, as it can, in some ways, increase the slaughter rate at the BMC abattoirs,” he added.
Producers agreed that the BMC Act should be amended while BMC remains a parastatal and be taxed as any other company on profit not turnovers. They decided that the BMC board, not the government, should be the one to make decisions concerning the BMC. They also said that they wanted slaughter houses to be licensed.
Additionally the producers concurred that the CEO be elected by the BMC board and should report directly to the board without approval of the minister. They said they would like the board to decide what to do with the surplus and want the export monopoly to be removed. The BMC, they said, should not reject animals but should buy at appropriate prices; and salaries of staff must be de-linked from the government.
They agreed that the export levy be controlled by farmers through the mother body.
“We would like the government to allow the importation of meat and meat products in line with the SACU provision and animal regulations of Botswana,” they said, adding that slaughter facilities should be regulated.
In his closing remarks, the Deputy Permanent Secretary of Support Services, Nkatla Moropisi, stressed that strategic alliances should grow from strength to strength. He informed the participants that his ministry was actively involved in the negotiations, and said it is best for producers to position themselves so as to know where to go when the negotiations are over.
“The ministry also has expressed its readiness and willingness to work with producers on this important assignment,” he said.
“BMC has really helped us as farmers by increasing throughput of slaughter cattle and the prices of various grades which have also improved. The road has been paved, so lets stand-up from four corners of our country and work together so as to have one voice,” said one of the producers who urged farmers to modernize the BMC so that when they move forward they are sure of their future.