Agric PS seeks BMC revival
A wary assemblage of MPs listened as though to a wearied yeoman’s tale when the Permanent Secretary for Agriculture this week spoke of how the BMC was dead without cattle to kill and so needed injection of cash to return to its days of glory.
Cash-strapped Botswana Meat Commission needs considerable financial injection if it should revive its operations, The Business Weekly & Review has heard.
This came to light when the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security, Jimmy Opelo, made a presentation to a wary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Wednesday this week.
Opelo’s thrust was that hopeless as the BMC may be, capital injection can return the beef parastatal to its heyday. “There is every reason to revive BMC,” he asserted.
Narrating the wearied tail of the once powerful establishment that was a thriving market for cattle farmers big and small across the country, the PS insisted that the BMC was still critical to reviving Botswana’s livestock industry.
“Yes, I do agree that there has been some deficiencies that resulted in this BMC that we are seeing now,” Opelo said.
He admitted that the challenges experienced by this state-owned entity (SOE) go a long way back and should have been dealt with long ago. “One of the reasons is that some of the recommendations to turn the BMC around were not implemented,” he said but did not elaborate.
This was in stark contrast to the mood of the PAC whose members held that the BMC is beyond salvation. Nevertheless, the PS held his ground. “There is potential for the BMC to bounce back,” he maintained. “This time around, we are determined to bring it back. We can’t throw away a noble asset of the economy (simply) because it was mismanaged in the past.”
Problems of the BMC indeed are long yeoman’s tale. In 2019, Parliament passed on a law to liberalise the beef production parastatal by ending its beef export monopoly. However, it emerged at6 the PAC hearing that it may be some time before Batswana are ready to participate in a liberalised market.
According to the agriculture ministry, a regulatory framework to guide how this process will unfold is still being prepared and may take up to the first quarter of 2021 before it can be rolled out. In the meantime, the woes of the BMC will continue and will be made worse by the unwillingness of famers to bring their cattle for slaughtering because of long payment delays.
At the PAC hearings on Wednesday, the PS attempted to shift the blame of the BMC’s poor throughput to farmers but was beaten back by the MPs who returned that farmers were demoralised by payment delays. “I am not disputing that BMC is no longer buying cattle from farmers at good prices,” the PS conceded, albeit reluctantly.
There is also the size of the national cattle herd that has gone down from 2.5 million in 2011 to 1.7 million in 2015 due mainly to drought and culling to stem the spread of foot and mouth disease that has yet to be eradicated from Botswana.
The BMC was established in 1965 at a time when agriculture (farming and livestock herding) contributed a great deal to the country’s GDP. It set up first in Lobatse and later opened abattoirs in Maun and Francistown.