The relationship between Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB) Chief Executive Officer Edison Woto and commercial farmers in Botswana is said to under strain such that they are even calling for his sacking. Highly placed source have revealed that the farmers have written to Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi calling on him to overhaul the management of BAMB as they feel it is sabotaging them. The commercial farmers mostly from Mosisedi and Pandamatenga farms are calling for a commission of inquiry as they are adamant that there is maladministration at BAMB. At the height of the farmers’ complaints is the refusal by BAMB to buy their cereal, especially maize and beans reasoning that it is of low quality. According to the farmers, before the 2016/17 ploughing season they entered into an agreement with BAMB for producer prices. “These negotiations helped us formulate our cropping plan; that is make decisions on which crops to plant and the number of hectares to be planted as guided by market demand,” reads the letter. According to the farmers, beans and yellow maize were the only ones exempted from the contract and a price schedule was granted for 2nd grade beans admission, which gave them the impression that BAMB will accept 2nd grade beans. After a bumper harvest which was credited to good rains, the commercial farmers thought that it will translate into monetary gains but they had a shock of their lives when BAMB refused to buy their products, insisting that they wanted first grade beans only.
The most affected farmers are the Pandamatenga farmers who are the largest cereal producing region with close to 50 commercial farmers in the country and Mosisedi farmers. They decry that they have experienced a rise in harvesting costs due to labour, transportation and hiring of different machinery and refusal by BAMB to buy their products will impact negatively. Last month the farmers met with the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Patrick Ralotsia and Woto to register their complaints. Woto is said to have stood his ground and informed Ralotsia that they will not buy the below quality beans and maize from the commercial farmers. “The challenge is that Ralotsia is conflicted as he is an associate member of Mosisedi Farmers Association,” revealed the source. There is a feeling amongst the farmers that Woto is using his position to appease subsistence farmers mostly in the North East as he harbours to join politics in 2018. Yellow maize, which does very well in the south, was discontinued from the contract and replaced with millet, which does geographically well in the north. This is despite the fact that yellow maize is good for cattle and animal feed.
Lack of Silos/Storage facilities
At their January meeting, commercial farmers are said to have raised a concern about the storage facilities but they were assured by BAMB officials that they will remedy the situation. Contrary to their promise, BAMB is said to have not rectified the situation as the silos are not yet ready to receive grain in bulk, thus forcing farmers to pack the maize back into bags and transport it back to the farm. Another concern for farmers is the grading system used by BAMB as they feel that it causes inconsistency in judging crop quality. They suggested that National Food Technology Research Centre (NFTRC) to test and grade the crops rather that BAMB doing both grading and purchasing. Woto has confirmed that he has met with commercial farmers with Ralotsia and maintained his position. “They are lying when they said that I don’t want to buy their cereal. We are not going to compromise the quality that we want just to impress some people,” fumed Woto.