Putting the Lean in Beef

Article excerpt

At Independence in 1966, the agricultural sector's share of GDP was 40%; at present it accounts for only around 3%. The figures do not tell the true story however, because agriculture has been superceded by mining as the mainstay of the economy. Rather they reflect Botswana's remarkable growth over two decades. In fact, there is far greater agricultural output today than in the 1960s.

For the majority of the Botswana, agriculture is still the chief occupation and cattle rearing is as intrinsic a part of the Botswana way of life as breathing.

Drought threatened devastation

In 1991, Botswana's cattle herd stood at 2.8m and it was projected that at current growth rates, the national herd would reach 3.9m head by 1995. The 1991/92 drought, the worst in the country's recorded history, threatened to devastate growth projections but timely intervention by the government somewhat softened the blow to producers.

The real cushioning, however was provided by the Botswana Meat Corporation which purchased large numbers of slaughter cattle and thus saved many farmers from ruin.

The state-owned Botswana Meat Commission, based in Lobatse, has a statutory monopoly on all beef destined for export. Some 80% of all beef slaughtered in Botswana is handled by the BMC's three abattoirs, at Lobatse, Maun and Francistown. The BMC was set up in 1965 to market Botwana's meat and to service the country's cattle herders. It is essentially a non-profit making body although it does make profits from its marketing activities. When rains are scarce or during periods of draught, it purchases all the cattle it is offered but when the grass is lush, sales to the BMC tend to drop. The throughput in 1990/91, for example was 158,457 animals which represented only 5.3% of the national herd.

During the last drought, farmers rushed their cattle to the BMC abbatoirs to avoid loss and sales rose by 35.4%. This yielded a profit of P 34m in 1992 compared to a loss, its first ever, of P 3m in 1990.

The first five months of the 1992/93 financial year however were marked by very poor throughput, low quality meat and record low cold dress mass, according to the BMC's chairman, Dr M.M. Mannathoko.

In his annual review, he states that the poor throughput was the result of the drought. "By the middle of August 1992, cattle were in such poor condition that farmers could not send them to the market".

The effects of the drought, particularly on young animals meant that the total kill between October 1992 and February 1993 was equivalent to only two weeks of normal kill.

Improving conditions

However, from April 1993 onwards, conditions improved dramatically and the total kill at the end of the year was a healthy 181,235 cattle, 3,573 sheep and 3,456 goats. …