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Cattle barons celebrate BMC ruination

Cattle barons celebrate BMC ruination
March 07
08:14 2018

In a deal that will worsen the abjection of the ordinary free-ranging Motswana cattle farmer, the Lobatse and Francistown abattoirs are being privatised while the FMD-troubled Maun outfit is being spared for now

THABO BAGWASI

The majority of Gantsi-based cattle barons are rubbing their hands in glee after bringing government to its knees in a final concession to the part privatisation of the loss-making international beef exporter, Botswana Meat Commission.

After years of hard-charging advocacy through the fierce lobby that the Botswana National Beef Producers Union (BNBPU), private cattle producers are now lining up to share the spoils in the wake of  BMC’s ruination as a full state entity.

Formed only in 2013 mainly by farmers of Afrikaner rootstock, BNBPU immediately managed to weasel itself close to government, eventually commissioning an independent study on privatisation of the parastatal.

BNBPU signed a memorandum with both the BMC and the Ministry of Agriculture that formalised its role in matters of cattle production. It did not only want to be a part of the BMC but it wanted in on feedlotting.

But it has now come to light that government made the announcement before release of the study.

Cabinet finally decided last week to convert the BMC into to a limited liability company and commercialise it into a mixed ownership between farmers, legal entities and government

The presentation and adoption of a tweaked blueprint detailing a redemption strategy for the BMC before Cabinet was done by the Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security, Patrick Ralotsia.

The Cabinet decision also follows Ralotsia’s convention of a series of consultative meetings around the country in 2017 that were aimed at soliciting ideas about the future of the beef sub-sector and the role of the Botswana Meat Commission in it.

“The meetings were actively attended by a wide range of stakeholders, including farmers, councillors and the Botswana National Beef Producers Union,” stated a press release from the Office of President.

On the basis of recommendations from these consultations, government agreed to transform the BMC and operations of its three abattoirs.

The business operations of BMC’s Lobatse and Francistown abattoirs will be remodelled in a period of two to three years while government will retain the Maun abattoir as a state entity and support it with an annual budget.

“This step is meant to ensure a market for cattle in Ngamiland and to guard against the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) into the green zones,” the release read in part.

Furthermore, it noted that such support can be reviewed and its commercialisation explored once the FMD status of the district has improved on a sustained basis.

A land meat industry regulator for control of the livestock industry will also accompany the new changes.

Government now has the task of amending legislative instruments relating to the livestock and meat industry for it to tally with the Cabinet decision.

Government also stated in the release that the rural peasant farmers were taken into consideration in the adoption of the new meat blueprint even though the privatisation model departs from the precedent set by BTCL listing in 2016.

“In adopting the above measures, government recognises that the beef industry is important for Botswana’s rural population in particular, and constitutes an important source of both current and potential export earnings,” reads the release in part.

In this respect, the beef sub-sector has already been identified as a strategic sub-sector within the country’s Economic Diversification Drive (EDD).

The BMC forms part of the agricultural sector which government noted accounts for a relatively small proportion of the country’s GDP that is estimated at 2%.

The BMC was a perennial requester of hundreds of millions in bailout funds from government to cover loans and fund operations. It was granted P300 million in bailout tranches in both 2014 and 2015.

Government eventually stopped flushing the BMC but not before it had disbursed a staggering amount of P500 million to rescue it from late payment of funds to farmers.

In the words of the ministry, the sub-sector challenges include poor and stagnating productivity, weak support services, seasonal overcapacity, lack of profitability in processing, as well as under-exploitation of the quality of produce in the export market.

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