Could the recent suspension of beef exports spell doom for the Botswana Meat Commission, which according to its publicly available financials, had begun to emerge from the doldrums? Just when the parastatal’s turnaround strategy was beginning to bear fruit, and the commission was beginning to realize profitability, the Kanye buffalo appeared.
Consequently, the Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) suspended export of beef and beef products, including to BMC’s largest and most lucrative market, the European Union (EU).
Addressing the media on Tuesday, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Boipolelo Khumomatlhare said the presence of buffaloes in the heart of EU export zone called for an urgent need for their immediate removal. “The EU market only allows imports of fresh bovine meat from FMD free countries or zones among other conditions. Thus in the event of a confirmed case of FMD, the EU market may be lost. As a Member State of World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) we are also obliged not to export FMD to other countries or regions, particularly the EU,” he said.
Further, Khumomatlhare reiterated; “Ongoing investigations have necessitated the imposition of movement standstill in the zone. Furthermore, exports of beef to all trading partners have been suspended with immediate effect. Trading partners have been notified and would be updated accordingly once investigations are concluded.”
According to its 2013 financials, the BMC had found its feet after a long time in the doldrums. During the period between 2008 and 2012, the commission lost a total of P727 million. It was accused of corruption and mismanagement, and was closed out of the EU market between 2012 and 2013 for failure to comply with the EU traceability standards.
But in 2013, with the advent of the new Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Dr Akolang Tombale and the resultant introduction and implementation of a new strategy, the parastatal’s staged a dramatic turnaround. From a P318 million loss recorded in 2012, BMC recorded a P28 million surplus the following year, in 2013. It also recorded over a billion Pula in revenue the same year.
A number of interventions are responsible for the good showing by the commission. Experts point to a number of factors, re-entry of Botswana beef to the relatively lucrative EU market in 2013 after two years of being blocked out of the market being the most important factor. The second factor was the increase in beef prices after South Africa, long held to be a low value frozen beef market, in 2013 took huge volumes of the BMC chilled beef at prices not far below those of the EU market. The third reason for the turnaround was the price paid to farmers which had more farmers willing to sell their cattle to the commission. The three year turnaround strategy, which lapses at the end of 2016, has not been without challenges as demonstrated by the problems that continue to bedevil the BMC. But the strategy has delivered profitability for the commission nonetheless.
With improved performance, now came the Kanye buffalo incident which stops the commission from exporting beef at all, including to its most lucrative market, the EU.
According to the BMC Communications Manager, Brian Dioka, they have responded to the export and slaughter restrictions by suspending production which entails buying of cattle into feedlots around Zone 11, buying of cattle into the Lobatse abattoir, carrying out slaughter on the same, and exporting beef and beef by-products through the Lobatse abattoir. This Dioka says; “…is in support of Government’s efforts to better manage the latest livestock movement protocols, [and] also to safeguard the global reputation and accolades conferred on the BMC.”
On the issue of financial losses the commission may suffer as a result of the export restrictions, Dioka said it was too early to quantify, but emphasized that BMC has adopted a niche-marketing and production approach where they only produce to order rather than stockpiling. “Therefore, we are managing those orders. Should the situation normalize, BMC management is prepared to work hard to make-up for lost-time,” he said.
Further, Dioka said though their Lobatse abbatoir has ceased operations, the Francistown and Maun abattoirs are in operation. “Our efforts are now dedicated to these plants to see how we can balance the deficit which will be necessitated by the closure of production in Lobatse,” he stated, adding that they remain optimistic that the restrictions will abate soon.
This reporter asked Dioka if the closure of the Lobatse operation could necessitate further staff retrenchments. BMC recently retrenched 153 people at the Francistown abattoir. In response, Dioka was quick to point out that staff retrenchment and the export restrictions were unrelated. He, however, made an assurance that current positions remain safe, despite having gone or going through a restructuring exercise – that unfortunately resulted in transfer of some staff and retrenchment of others. Dioka pleaded for calm and optimism and asked for the nation to comply with the restrictions.
For so many years, Botswana has been trying to be a self-sufficient country that is able to provide its citizens with locally produced food products. Through appropriate collaborations with parastatals such as CEDA, ISPAAD and LEA, government introduced initiatives such as the Horticulture Impact Accelerator Subsidy-IAS and other funding facilities to facilitate horticultural farmers to increase production levels.
Now that COVID-19 took over and disrupted the food value chain across all economies, Botswana government introduced these initiatives to reduce the import bill by enhancing local market and relieve horticultural farmers from loses or impacts associated with the pandemic.
In more concerted efforts to curb these food crises in the country, government extended the ploughing period for the Southern part of Botswana. The extension was due to the late start of rains in the Southern part of the country.
Last week the Ministry of Agriculture extended the ploughing period for the Northern part of the country, mainly because of rains recently experienced in the country. With these decisions taken urgently, government optimizes food security and reliance on local food production.
When pigs fly, Botswana will be able to produce food to feed its people. This is evident by the numbers released by Statistics Botswana on imports recorded in November 2020, on their International Merchandise Trade Statistics for the month under review.
The numbers say Botswana continues to import most of its food from neighbouring South Africa. Not only that, Batswana relies on South Africa to have something to smoke, to drink and even use as machinery.
According to data from Statistics Botswana, the country’s total imports amounted to P6.881 Million. Diamonds contributed to the total imports at 33%, which is equivalent to P2.3 Million. This was followed by food, beverages and tobacco, machinery and electrical equipment which stood at P912 Million and P790 Million respectively.
Most of these commodities were imported from The Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The Union supplied Botswana with imports valued at over P4.8 Million of Botswana’s imports for the month under review (November 2020). The top most imported commodity group from SACU region was food, beverages and tobacco, with a contribution of P864 Million, which is likely to be around 18.1% of the total imports from the region.
Diamonds and fuel, according to these statistics, contributed 16.0%, or P766 Million and 13.5% or P645 Million respectively. Botswana also showed a strong and desperate reliance on neighbouring South Africa for important commodities. Even though the borders between the two countries in order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, government took a decision to open border gates for essential services which included the transportation of commodities such as food.
Imports from South Africa recorded in November 2020 stood at P4.615 Million, which accounted for 67.1% of total imports during the month under review. Still from that country, Botswana bought food, beverages and tobacco worth P844 Million (18.3%), diamonds, machinery and fuel worth P758 Million, P601 Million and P562 Million respectively.
Botswana also imported chemicals and rubber products that made a contribution of 11.7% (P542.2 Million) to total imports from South Africa during the month under review, (November 2020).
The European Union also came to Botswana’s rescue in the previous year. Botswana received imports worth P698.3 Million from the EU, accounting for 10.1% of the total imports during the same month. The major group commodity imported from the EU was diamonds, accounting for 86.9% (P606.6 Million), of imports from the Union. Belgium was the major source of imports from the EU, at 8.9% (P609.1 Million) of total imports during the period under review.
Meanwhile, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Thapelo Matsheka says an improvement in exports and commodity prices will drive growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Growth in the region is anticipated to recover modestly to 3.2% in 2021. Matsheka said this when delivering the Annual Budget Speech virtually in Gaborone on the 1st of February 2021.
He said implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), which became operational in January 2021, could reduce the region’s vulnerability to global disruptions, as well as deepen trade and economic integration.
“This could also help boost competition and productivity. Successful implementation of AfCFTA will, of necessity, require Member States to eliminate both tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and generally make it easier to do business and invest across borders.”
Matsheka, who is also a Member of Parliament for Lobatse, an ailing town which houses the struggling biggest meat processing company in the country- Botswana Meat Commission, (BMC), said the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) recognizes the need to prioritize the key processes required for the implementation of the AfCFTA.
“The revised SACU Tariff Offer, which comprises 5,988 product lines with agreed Rules of Origin, representing 77% of the SACU Tariff Book, was submitted to the African Union Commission (AUC) in November 2020. The government is in the process of evaluating the tariff offers of other AfCFTA members prior to ratification, following which Botswana’s participation in AfCFTA will come to effect.”
Women continue to shadow men in politics – stereotypes such as ‘behind every successful man there is a woman’ cast the notion that women cannot lead. The 2019 general election recorded one of Botswana’s worst performances when it comes to women participation in parliamentary democracy with only three women elected to parliament.
Botswana’s former Minister of Health, Professor Sheila Tlou who is currently the Co-Chair, Global HIV Prevention Coalition & Nursing Now and an HIV, Gender & Human Rights Activist is not amused by the status quo. Tlou attributes this dilemma facing women to a number of factors, which she is convinced influence the voting patterns of Batswana when it comes to women politicians.
Professor Tlou plugs the party level voting systems as the first hindrance that blocks women from ascending to power. According to the former Minister of Health, there is inadequate amount of professionalism due to corrupt internal party structures affecting the voters roll and ultimately leading to voter apathy for those who end up struck off the voters rolls under dubious circumstances.
Tlou also stated that women’s campaigns are often clean; whilst men put to play the ‘politics is dirty metaphor using financial muscle to buy voters into voting for them without taking into consideration their abilities and credibility. The biggest hurdle according to Tlou is the fallacy that ‘Women cannot lead’, which is also perpetuated by other women who discourage people from voting for women.
There are numerous factors put on the table when scrutinizing a woman, she can be either too old, or too young, or her marital status can be used against her. An unmarried woman is labelled as a failure and questioned on how she intends on being a leader when she failed to have a home. The list is endless including slut shaming women who have either been through a divorce or on to their second marriages, Tlou observed.
The only way that voters can be emancipated from this mentality according to Tlou is through a robust voter education campaign tailor made to run continuously and not be left to the eve of elections as it is usually done. She further stated that the current crop of women in parliament must show case their abilities and magnify them – this will help make it clear that they too are worthy of votes.
And to women intending to run for office, Tlou encouraged them not to wait for the eleventh hour to show their interest and rather start in community mobilisation projects as early as possible so that the constituents can get to know them and their abilities prior to the election date.
Youthful Botswana National Front (BNF) leader and feminist, Resego Kgosidintsi blames women’s mentality towards one another which emanates from the fact that women have been socialised from a tender age that they cannot be leaders hence they find it difficult to vote for each other.
Kgosidintsi further states that, “Women do not have enough economic resources to stage effective campaigns. They are deemed as the natural care givers and would rather divert their funds towards raising children and building homes over buying campaign materials.”
Meanwhile, Vice President of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), Wynter Mmolotsi agrees that women’s participation in politics in Botswana remains a challenge. To address this Mmolotsi suggested that there should be constituencies reserved for women candidates only so that the outcome regardless of the party should deliver a woman Member of Parliament.
Mmolotsi further suggested that Botswana should ditch the First Past the Post system of election and opt for the proportional representation where contesting parties will dutifully list able women as their representatives in parliament.
On why women do not get elected, Mmolotsi explained that he had heard first hand from voters that they are reluctant to vote for women since they have limited access to them once they have won; unlike their male counterparts who have proven to be available night or day.
The pre-historic awarding of gender roles relegating women to be pregnant and barefoot at home and the man to be out there fending for the family has disadvantaged women in political and other professional careers.