There is real opportunity to develop the beef sector and grow foreign exchange revenues accruing from the sector, says permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security, Mr Jimmy Opelo.
Speaking at the 4th Kgomokhumo beef cluster initiative implementation plan update session, Mr Opelo said it was an open secret that Botswana beef was regarded highly in niche markets, especially in South Africa and Western Europe.
“However, it has not achieved its full brand potential due to poor marketing strategies,” he said.
He indicated that this came to light in a presentation by the then agriculture hub coordinator, Mr Neil Fitt at the 2012 Letsema II consultative conference in Francistown.
Mr Opelo noted that then, Mr Fitt argued that Botswana beef had many market opportunities to enable it to be sold on the differentiated high-value niche markets because the markets had high prices which could enable the growth of Botswana’s beef industry. Retracing their steps on motivation to set-up the Botswana Beef Cluster Initiative, he said agriculture had traditionally been the mainstay of Batswana’s economy and that during the budding years of Botswana, agriculture was the largest contributor to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
“This, as we might be aware, has been dropping to ultimately 2.8 percent of contribution to the GDP in 2018.
The trend is worrisome because we desperately need to diversify the economy away from mining, particularly diamond mining,” continued Mr Opelo.
He said lobby efforts by stakeholders, coupled with the findings of a consultant, Professor Michael Porter, saw the birth of initiatives such as the beef cluster, which was launched last year to help Botswana beef claim its rightful place in the globe’s most discerning markets.
Mr Opelo said to operationalise the initiative, a number of activities were carried out with communal and commercial farmers, companies and other institutions in the sector, adding that they were followed by a public meeting.
“The second phase entailed strategic analysis, beefed up by a benchmarking exercise, which was carried out in South Africa and the United States, and further validated locally with farmers and other stakeholders during reflection group meetings,” which culminated with a second public meeting that validated the analysis. Mr Opelo further said the third phase saw the hosting of the third public meeting which galvanised thoughts, data and experiences into a strategy and six action lines.
The action lines are training programmes for grass-fed beef farmers and companies; a regenerative grazing transfer programme, grass-fed beef research programme, a transparent traceability system that seeks to improve the Botswana Animal Identification and Traceability System (BAITS), Botswana grass-fed beef unique positioning and direct access to advanced markets.
Mr Opelo further informed delegates that the six action lines were the ones they could be evaluating progress on had the implementation core group not faced challenges of access to funds to operationalise some activities which needed funding in November 2018 as planned.
However, he said owing to the group’s creative prowess, some activities that did not require financial inputs had been carried out, adding that he was happy to announce that the required funding for other activities had been secured and work would progress accordingly.
“Government is still committed to the project and the aspiration of grass-fed beef production has never been more resolute.
I implore you not to lose heart, for our principals and the core team have fought off all the impediments that threatened progress and success of this initiative,” he concluded.
Some of the ministry’s achievements over the past seven months include the use of the Ramatlabama Training Centre as a model farm for the grass-fed beef concept, compilation of potential buyers in Gaborone that would be extended to the Okavango Delta.
He said the New Zealand consultants who had been offering training to farmers and herd boys agreed to incorporate the grass-fed beef concept into their phase II training modules amongst others.