Helping Botswana's Beef Supply Chain
By Natalie Smith, EBVC Agricultural Development Manager
The EBVC team headed to Botswana this summer as part of our ongoing advisory work on creating sustainable supply chains.
The seven day trip was a collaboration with Victus Global's Bo Masole, a Botswanan food technologist based in London, with a passion for promoting food produced in Africa and her homeland. At present, 50% of Botswana's beef ends up in the EU. Our brief was to identify how the country could increase production capacity to further expand this export market.
EVBC are already working with several food retailers (such as Sainsbury's) and businesses in the UK and the EU, to ensure sustainable food supply policies. Supply chain challenges obviously vary from company to company and country to country. The ultimate aim is to identify where issues may occur and mitigate risk within the chain. These challenges could be anything from understanding sourcing structures and standards suppliers are working to, to supporting farmers in data collection and analysis that delivers continuous improvement in terms of animal health and welfare.
In Botswana, the challenges are hugely varied and exist at farm level right up to government. One of the main hindrances is a cultural one. Owning cattle is part of the culture, so selling stock as part of a business enterprise is not traditional practice. Against this background, instilling a need to finish stock at a set age, size and weight is obviously a challenge.
Farming practices themselves also create issues around traceability and disease control, which is crucial when looking to exploit the EU market. About 80% of cattle are truly free range and roam on communal basis. The rest are larger, commercially minded farms that use large fenced areas.
At present, about 70% of cattle are finished on feed lots by the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) which is government owned and completely controls the market. BMC are in a difficult position of feeling obliged to buy any stock presented to them, which causes challenges in terms of variability of the quality.Cattle are generally pure-bred Brahman or Brahman crossed with a continental breed such as Simmental.
After carrying out a SWOT analysis, myself and James Husband presented our thoughts to the Botswanan Ministry of Agriculture. We recommended farmer training and designing a farm assurance standard to help improve health and welfare to meet EU requirements. We also advised moving away from a feed lot system, which is negatively viewed within the EU, and instead focusing on the natural, grass based traditions of the country. Traceability will obviously need to be addressed.
There's no doubt it's going to be a long journey and myself and James are looking to develop more detailed recommendations. However, there will have to be changes within Botswana itself to ensure recommendations are implemented and the industry receives the support it needs.