Page last updated at 11:20 GMT, Friday, 20 November 2009

Botswana beefs up its exports

By Egon Cossou
Africa Business Report, BBC World News, Botswana

Cows in Botswana
Botswana's government wants to export more beef

Boyce Sebenego's farm lies 250 kilometres from Botswana's capital city, Gaborone. It is very much a family affair. Boyce runs it with his father and hopes to pass it on to his son.

Beef is the name of the game here. This 6,500 hectare farm boasts a thousand cattle.

It is something of a rarity in these parts. It has been run as a commercial enterprise for close to 20 years.

Many farms in Botswana are run on a part-time, non-professional basis. That's because raising cattle is an important part of the culture. It is a traditional way of expressing wealth.

So a lot of land is used by informal, non-commercial farmers.

Before the family moved in, the farm was used by the local community. That meant anyone raising cattle on a casual basis could use it for grazing. But it is hot and dusty here - the farm lies at the edge of the Kalahari desert.

Only people with the cash to irrigate the land could afford to turn it into a professional farm. So the Sebenegos invested heavily in a borehole to bring in much-needed water and turn the plot into a going concern.

Botswana's part-time cattle farmers

They are now looking to expand, with the help of a government loan designed to boost agriculture. This fits in with the government's aim of expanding its beef industry.

It sends the meat around the world - with the European Union being a particularly important customer. Last year, exports earned around $80m (£48m) - a figure the country wants to see growing.

Professional production

A short drive away from the Sebenegos' farm lies a privately-owned feeding station.

Younger animals are fattened up for market by a programme of intensive feeding.

It's all in the timing - you've got to get the right cows on the right feed at the right time or profits will suffer.

Feed lots like this offer the expertise many small farms may lack. So the authorities want to see feed points, to help make beef production more professional.

The cows are slaughtered and butchered at the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC), which looks after the country's beef exports.

Boyce Sebenego
Boyce Sebenego hopes to expand his business

Sonny Molapisi, general manager of marketing at the BMC, reckons this facility is only running at about 60% capacity.

''If we are to improve on the number of cattle that are sent in for slaughter we have to convert from oxen production to what we call weaner production," he says.

"It means we are able to take cattle to slaughter at a younger age while it is still in its prime stage. It enables me, when I sell the product in the international market, to compete on the same level as industrialised countries."

Back on the farm Boyce continues to plan for expansion. He wants to pass an even bigger business on to his son.

But success will be more than just a family affair - the entire industry hopes the spread of the professional farmer will make it a major foreign revenue earner.

Africa Business Report is a monthly programme on BBC World News. The next programme will be on Saturday, 21 November at 0130 GMT and 2230 GMT, and on Sunday, 22 November at 1330 GMT and 2130 GMT.



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