• Cllrs unhappy with BMC abattoir closure
• 'Govt does not care about F/town' -councillors
The recent shutdown of operations at the Francistown abattoir, one of the three owned by Botswana Meat Commission (BMC), has thrown the farming community in north east into a quagmire and seriously compromised the turnover of the parastatal. Efforts to bring interventions to sustain the Francistown abattoir, which has been haemorrhaging financially due to huge losses attributed to low input of cattle from farmers, have failed. The shutdown has caused anxiety amongst farmers, residents of north east and politicians alike. As a consequence, Francistown Mayor Sylvia Muzila invited Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security, Patrick Ralotsia to address a full council meeting last week.
Ralotsia conceded that the closure of the BMC facility has a negative impact on the economy of Francistown, both in an agrarian and socio-economic nature. He said Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreaks and cattle bovine lung disease have plagued and compromised the cattle industry, especially in the northern part of the country. Over the years, the outbreaks affected operations at Maun and Francistown abattoirs compromising the ability of farmers to supply sufficient stock. Originally the Francistown plant was scheduled to slaughter 380 head of cattle per day. Poor returns, in terms of fiscal compensation for cattle sold to the abattoir for slaughter, has discouraged farmers from selling their cattle to BMC, the minister acknowledged.
Since 2013 Francistown abattoir has failed to reach half of its potential in slaughtering capacity, and in worst cases the kill rate at the facility was zero. Ralotsia said Government is caught in a dilemma over whether to retrench staff at the abattoir or close down the facility in its entirety. He challenged FCC councillors to come up with strategies to address concerns of the farming community about the closure of the BMC.
The Minister conceded that generally BMC is undergoing dire economic challenges, which makes it difficult to pay farmers after they have long delivered their cattle to the abattoir for slaughter. Such problems discourage farmers from selling cattle to BMC, which has significantly reduced procurement of stock. Even in 2017, BMC struggled to meet its quota for slaughter. Ralotsia said BMC was set up to run in an efficient manner, which the Francistown facility is falling short of, thus is draining the parastatal's resources.
In the Q & A, Councillor Gunda criticised Government for poor consultation ahead of the closure. He said it is too late for the minister to try to consult them when Government has already made a decision to close down the facility. Another Councillor Mbulawa, raised concern that Government has neglect developments in Francistown, citing closure of the Tati Nickel Mine and the Francistown BMC plant as examples. He accused Government officials of keeping Francistown political leaders in the ‘dark’ about matters that affect the city's socio-economic development. He decried that Government does not prioritize and consider issues that impact the livelihoods of Francistown constituents.
Peter Ngoma, former mayor and current councillor, echoed similar sentiments saying Government is forsaking Francistown, citing the same examples. He said unlike in Selibe Phikwe where funds and initiatives like SPEDU were fast tracked to save the ailing town, nothing is being done about Francistown following the collapse of Tati Nickel Mine.
Ralotsia acknowledged the concerns of the councillors. He said poor performance of the Francistown plant was aggravated by disease outbreaks and farmers in the region refusing to sell cattle to the abattoir, only doing so during periods of drought. Ralotsia said Government is considering proposals to privatize the Francistown BMC plant. He said a proposal has been submitted to cabinet for measures to undertake, in terms of privatisation of BMC.
The Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) was established on the eve of Botswana’s independence, in 1965 by an act of Parliament to promote the development of the country’s beef and related products globally. It has for several decades played a pivotal role in the economy contributing to the GDP through earnings from the lucrative EU market, creating employment in the agriculture sector and providing livelihood for cattle farmers. In the early years of independence beef export was the only foreign exchange earner until the discovery of diamonds. Notwithstanding its declining contribution beef has remained significantly important to the economy.