Monday, September 21, 2020

Young farmer takes his solitary protest back to the streets against CEDA

Goabaone Chwene, a young farmer from Francistown has once again returned to the streets embarking on a hunger strike to protest against Citizen Enterprise Development Agency (CEDA). He is accusing the financial institution of sabotaging him and frustrating his efforts of becoming a successful commercial farmer.

In 2016 Chwene made headlines in local media when he walked 420 km from Francistown to Gaborone protesting against CEDA for refusing to fund his commercial farm project.

CEDA was established by Botswana government in 2001 to provide financial and technical support for business development with a view to promote viable and sustainable citizen owned business enterprises.

According to Chwene, since 2012, CEDA turned down his proposals to start a seed multiplication and fodder production project at Gulubane village in the North East District worth over P3.8 million. The proposed project was to produce lab lab seeds, maize and fodder to be cultivated in a 150 hectares of land. He claimed that he had applied for funding and his proposal was rejected  several times by the financial institution without giving any sound reason despite the fact that he(Chwene) spent close to P40 000 when doing his business proposal.

At some point he was arrested by the police and was slapped with a charge of common nuisance after embarking on a hunger strike and single handedly making a demonstration near CEDA offices in Francistown. The charges were later dropped.

In one of its rejection letters, CEDA said that it would not fund the project as it was not viable. “The research done by CEDA indicate that positive and continued yields could not be expected due to the dry land cultivation nature of the project as farmers have an appetite to supplement livestock feed only during a dry season. Therefore the project will rely more on the seeds thus rendering the project not financially viable,” read one of the rejection letters at the time.

Speaking to the Sunday Standard last week Chwene said that after successfully engaging into a hunger strike and 420 km walk from Francistown to Gaborone, CEDA CEO, Thamane finally gave him a second chance to consider his proposal in 2016. He said that he was called into a Board meeting where Thamane said that the project was viable but the problem was land as it would be expensive to buy.

“Luckily I managed to travel with Thamane and other government delegates for a benchmarking exercise in Pandamatenga which was an all paid trip. Things were promising as he assured me that he will help me with land allocation for my project rather than buying freehold land it as it would prove expensive. All of a sudden Thamane changed his story saying that they are still talking to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Production regarding the issue of land” Chwene said.

“What I know is that I can only be allocated land through the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services. To this day, whenever I call him he does not want to talk to me and at times he prefers to send his subordinates to me especially his secretary. What I need is his audience. I think he is deliberately dodging and sabotaging me. I want to be clear, I am not being rebellious or fighting CEDA but all I just need is assistance from the institution and I believe things should be conducted fairly,” added a clearly disappointed Chwene.

Chwene who has been protesting and demonstrating through a placard in front of the British Embassy House and the Debswana House in Gaborone since 25 September 2018 says that he has since issued his complaint letter to the Office of the President, CEDA headquarters and former President Lt Dr Seretse Khma Ian Khama’s office.

“Sadly I have not managed to meet with President Mokgweetsi Masisi as I wanted his audience. I was told by his officers that he is busy. I have also served a letter to the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry and Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services.I believe Thamane should resign. Hitherto I am still waiting for the responses from all these offices. ,” he said Responding to the Sunday Standard Questionnaire on behalf of Thamane, the Communication Manager at CEDA Leatile Bakwena said Thamane never received any calls from Mr. Chwene nor has he avoided them at any point.

“The Agency has extended every effort to Mr Chwene in providing him with the necessary support for him to better understand its stance in declining his project,” he said.

Bakwena explained that Thamane previously met with Chwene to provide clarity on reasons why his loan application had been rejected. He said CEDA went even further and took Chwene on a benchmarking exercise to CEDA funded arable projects in the Pandamatenga area. He said the objective was to offer Chwene a first-hand experience of large-scale dry land farming in accordance to his own project.

“Further to the above interventions the Agency wrote a letter to the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security requesting its assistance in finding suitable land for Mr. Chwene in order to reduce the loan amount he had initially applied for. Mr. Thamane has not made any promises in ensuring that he acquires land and assuring him that CEDA would fund it,” he said

“CEDA is a revolving fund, where due consideration is taken to fund viable projects so that new businesses can be funded. The Agency prides itself on ensuring that it funds projects that meet the requisite business requirements to succeed,” he concluded.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.