The Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security Dr Edwin Dikoloti together with President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi faced a baptism of fire in Parliament on Monday afternoon with legislators attacking them for failing the agricultural sector.
MPs could not spare their frustration over government's negligence of the agriculture sector, which they argue supports many households. Dr Dikoloti sought Parliament’s approval of a ministry budget exceeding P1 billion for the year ending March 2021.
Although they castigated his ministry for negligence in the end the MPs approved the youthful minister’s budget proposals. He also enjoyed full support of President Masisi, who was in attendance.
Legislators believe that agriculture once well-resourced and prioritised will improve the country’s economic prospects. Tonota legislator Pono Moatlhodi said the agricultural sector has been neglected over the years, despite having contributed about 40% of GDP before the discovery of the diamonds.
Moatlhodi said government has been developing policies that were aimed at reviving the sector such as adopting modern artificial insemination but nothing positive has been reaped so far.
“It is vital for the BDP government to start shifting its focus and investment in agriculture. We need more agriculture training centres such as the Ramatlabama Ranch Management Training Centre (RRMTC) to be set up nationwide for easy access,” Moatlhodi said.
MP Polson Majaga of Nata/Gweta stressed that money that is allocated towards the sector has not been enough for a long time and urged government to give the sector more funds as it is large.
The maverick BDP legislator also fired shots towards his government over low compensation of farmers when their cattle are being killed for Foot and Mouth or by wild animals.
Majaga called on the ministry to review the compensation rates, saying they cause poverty to the farmers who invest a lot in their cattle.
The Assistant Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Beauty Manake last year told Parliament that the reward amounts for each cow killed for FMD control is P 700 each and P200 for small stock.
She argued that the compensation was not meant to be attractive but to deter farmers from deliberately allowing their animals to cross into Foot and Mouth affected areas during FMD outbreaks.
Bobonong MP Taolo Lucas had asked the minister about the compensation amount for each animal killed as result of FMD control measure and whether it was enough.
Francistown South MP Wynter Mmolotsi has insisted that all the predicaments afflicting the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) were a result of lack of vision by government for BMC.
He said government could have long privatised BMC by turning into a multinational company with stores set in many countries, adding that – that could have saved BMC from collapse.
“The model that BMC is currently using will not save BMC even if money was injected on it. Something is wrong with BMC and there is need for it to be restored,” he said.
He said government has been advised by Parliament over BMC but has ignored such, adding that one of the rejections by government was the liberalisation of the meat market.
Dr Dikoloti said plans are afoot to save the cash strapped BMC from collapsing, noting that it has not yet be given to any private company.
The minister said government is committed to reviving the agricultural sector, adding that action will be taken against farmers who neglect farms after ploughing through ISPAAD initiatives.
Ghanzi South MP Motsamai Motsamai said farmers are pinning their hopes on Dr Dikoloti as a minister who can be able to meet their long time demands such as removing of BMC monopoly.
He also challenged minister Dikoloti to deliver on his promises of restructuring BMC to make it more efficient, saying the minister must consider reviewing the BMC selling prices quickly.
“BMC crisis is a big duty that will make or break you before the eyes of farmers. I want to tell you BMC issue is what determines your relationship with farmers,” Motsamai said.
Dr Masisi supported the budget estimates, saying government has identified agriculture as the economic segment that can unlock the opportunities and help in creation of employment.