It is hard to find any eatery across the country which has lamb in its variety of menus, unless one hops into a hotel restaurant or a few available ones where they can be able to satisfy their cravings or love for the sheep meat. The local demand is being met through importation and such is an opportunity in waiting for local sheep farmers. It is even harder to come by a butcher shop that has lamb in its refrigerators – only beef and occasionally one can find goat meat. There seems to be a niche in the supply of the sheep meat which apart from being consumed as pure meat, can also be processed into other type of foods such as polonies in addition to its fur being harvested to make wool. As a way to resuscitate and grow the sheep industry in Botswana which may from the distance appear to be moribund, a Botswana Sheep Breeders Association has been formed. The association wants to make the industry blossom. The association, chairperson, Aobakwe Gofamodimo says there is an opportunity that is currently not being exploited in the country in terms of sheep meat supply. He says local breeders do not breed enough to satisfy the local demand for lamb as the country still imports more of it, from South Africa in particular, though he admits that people rear for different reasons.
He says even though local farmers complain of their stock being bought at low prices, he is of the view that even farmers are not doing enough to breed to the requirements and standards, leading to low quality stock hence low prices in some instances. Gofamodimo says currently a sheep is being bought at around 30 per kilogramme by shop owners, but the figure is only for a carcass after removing other parts such as head and intestines. “Most farmers are still weekend farmers and again the industry itself is not properly structured. Everybody does what they want,” he says, adding that, that is the main reason why the association was formed, to properly run the industry which will in turn see local demand being met at least half way. The association, he says, for all intents and purposes hopes to grow the industry by ensuring that it is properly coordinated and structured to meet set standards and requirements. He says the association will help to standardise the sheep industry to see farmers being able to sell their stock at a similar price, which is not the case at the moment as every farmer negotiates for themselves when selling. “We want the industry to be divided into sub sectors so that farmers are classified according to the breeds they keep, in that way things are made easier in terms of coordination,” he says.
There is no clear information on the sheep population in Botswana, but the association estimates the stock count to stand at 200,000 which is a very low figure by any standards. What Gofamodimo founds to be lacking and is a hindrance for the growth of the industry is education. By his account, lack of farming education contributes largely to the collapse of the sheep breeding business and other small stock farming. “The agricultural sector needs are growing and to close that gap there is a need to impart knowledge to the members on the dynamics of the business,” he says, giving an example of the many government funded youth projects which have failed as an indication of lack of education and passion. There have also been claims that lack of land designated for farming purposes is in shortage, but Gofamodimo has dismissed those allegations as untrue. He says people just need to travel to other countries doing well in the industry with farmers there doing very well in very small pieces of land.He says four hectares is enough to rear sheep and a lack of land claim should be dismissed with the vigor it deserves. “Farming is not about owning a big portion of land. People need to move around and see how things are done in other countries,” he says and further advises farmers to change their mindsets to approach farming from a different angle. He says if done properly, sheep production could bring more returns to those practicing it and mainly because there is demand which is currently being met mostly through importation.
Gofamodimo also spoke about the need to create a value chain that people can explore, saying some can just be involved in the business of buying and selling without necessarily having to keep sheep themselves. He says opportunities are countless in the industry and only have to be explored. The idea, according to him, is to create a system that will create specialists in sheep breeds which will also make it easier for representation and for lobbying of reasonable prices for carcasses. There seems to be less research done on the sheep industry and its market performance and this is one of the association’s long term goals to ascertain the performance of the industry as a whole with in-depth analysis. The association is on a crusade to take the industry forward and this would be done with the government under the Livestock Improvement Unit, with Gofamodimo acclaiming the good partnership that they have with the government. Though he says notable growth has been noted, the high demand and low supply here has presented a window of opportunity for impostors who masquerade as messiahs of the industry who buy culled stock from outside the country and later sell it to the locals under pretext that the sheep will be productive. “They are exploiting this loophole. You will find that some of the sheep has been culled for not being fertile and you may realise maybe after two years with no signs of gestation that the sheep is infertile,” says Gofamodimo. The newly established association seeks to be the cornerstone of sheep production in Botswana and that can only happen if things are done professionally. “At the moment we have no structures and if tomorrow it happens that I leave the organisation then someone else comes in, they may also leave for their reason. That way the industry would not go anywhere,” he says. To avoid that situation, he says, they want run it professionally with a board of directors and Exco team.