Amendment Bill to privatise BMC • Farmers outraged • De Graaff conniving with SA businessmen to take over BMC - claim BG reporter Just when livestock farmers are basking in the excitement that the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) in Lobatse will resume beef exports to the lucrative European Union market, the Ministry of Agriculture has connived to upset the applecart. Assistant Minister of Agriculture Oreeditse Molebatsi on Tuesday tabled an Amendment Bill in parliament that seeks to end BMC monopoly and allow other players into the industry. This has brought Molebatsi and his boss, Christian De Graaff into a collision course with some farmers who feel that privatising the BMC will make life more difficult for them. Farmers feel that the Bill spells doom for the loss making BMC.
They also argue that should Molebatsi get the green light from the lawmakers it will mark the end of the small farmer. “It is going to provide cattle barons the opportunity to sell to the European Union (EU) market at the expense of the small farmer,” Godfrey Habana of Nata Ranchers Association cried. Habana says de-monopolising the abattoir will be the end of life for the subsistence farmer and the export agency. “They are kicking the BMC when it is lying down,” he said. Patrick Mazwiduma, a farmer who has at least five ranches, shares this sentiment. He feels that the status quo should be left alone. Efforts to amend the BMC Act to de-monopolise the country’s beef export agency suffered a minor setback last year after Parliament deferred the bill citing some reservations. Some legislators were hostile towards ending BMC’ monopoly. There are claims that the Minister of Agriculture, Christian De Graaff is helping a group of South African businessmen to take over BMC. Farmers are also suspicious of the whole motive for privatising the abattoir. “We have our own suspicions that the Amendment will benefit outsiders more that the locals,” said Mazwiduma. De Graaff dismissed this outright when reached for comment saying there is no how he can take over the BMC. The minister argued that farmers have no reason to fear for anything because the abattoir will continue to buy from them through the Direct Purchase Scheme. “We are not going to bring anyone to take over the BMC, we will not allow the BMC to collapse,” he said. The minister said the request to amend the BMC Act came from the farmers not from government. However Botswana Guardian is reliably informed that other associations such as the Southern Beef Farmers Association are against the idea of ending BMC monopoly. Among sections targeted for amendment is section 21, which gives the minister powers to issue permits to any person who wish to export cattle. Sub-section 1 says that, “No person shall export cattle or edible products from cattle from Botswana unless he posses a permit in writing to do so, issued by the Minister,” while the next part notes that the commission (BMC) may slaughter cattle on behalf of any person for the purposes of exporting from Botswana. But for some farmers this Bill is what the doctor ordered.
They say currently beef prices are very low because of the BMC monopoly. “We are at the mercy of BMC,” argues Bathusi Letlhare of the Western Sandveld Farmers Association. According to Letlhare who is a commercial farmer, ending the BMC monopoly will benefit farmers because there will be increased competition. The Bill comes at a time when Botswana beef industry is suffering from acute losses following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the northern part of the country. It also comes in the wake of the unpopular ban of Botswana beef by the EU. Meanwhile, De Graaff revealed that Botswana would resume beef exports to the EU by the 10th of July this year.