Okavango cattle farmers cash in

BREAKTHROUGH: Truck loaded with cattle set for slaughter

Commodity Based Trade project rakes in P300, 000 from sale of 42 cows to BMC

It was a Christmas to remember for cattle farmers in the remote Okavango villages of Eretsha and Habu, who received over P300, 000 from the sale of 42 cows to the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC).

The December sale was made possible thanks to a Commodity Based Trade (CBT) project in the area.

According to Conservation International (CI), an environmentally-driven American NGO, ordinarily these farmers would not have been able to make this direct sale as the area is a designated Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) Red Zone.

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“This milestone was achieved through support from various stakeholders in conservation, Commodity Based Trade and the government, in collaboration with farmers,” CI revealed in a statement last week.

Although traditional livestock farming contributes toward livelihoods and formal employment in the district, due to frequent FMD outbreaks in the last 20 years, as well as loss of cattle to predators, the viability of livestock agriculture as a source of income has declined.

“This has led to a greater risk of poverty and food insecurity,” warns CI, adding that, prior to the Mohembo Bridge being built, the Okavango River made it difficult for Eretsha’s farmers to transport their cattle.

“This lack of access hampered sales of cattle beyond Shakawe, further discouraging farmers from investing in proper livestock management practices. This resulted in negative environmental impacts, poor livestock health and productivity,” continues the statement.

To address this challenge, farmers are working with a consortium led by CI, with funding secured from the European Union (EU), to pilot a CBT beef project in these areas.

The scheme focuses on supporting and enabling communal farmers to comply with standards and regulations that will improve their chances of accessing markets.

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However, cultural taboos are said to be a stumbling block, especially in Habu, where farmers are reportedly resisting the new progressive conservation initiative by a Village Development Trust.

According to the project’s coordinator, Tiego Mpho of Wild Entrust, an NGO that manages Habu Elephant Trust’s projects, trust issues are slowing them down in their ultimate goal of taking over Habu cattle herds, which currently stand at over 10, 000.

While participating farmers agree for their cattle to be herded and kraaled communally by fulltime professional herders (eco-rangers), traditionalists fear the project will steal their symbol of wealth by keeping their cattle away from them.

“It is a slow process,” admits Mpho.

Nevertheless, he remains resolute.

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“Gradually we will get the farmers buy in and they will bring more cattle and will see the benefits!”

At the core of this pilot is the use of predator-proof bomas (cattle kraals), planned grazing systems and mobile quarantine bomas (electrified enclosures) for the cattle, facilitated in support with the Department of Veterinary Services.

In December, the first successful exit from the mobile quarantine bomas in Habu and Eretsha saw cattle quarantined on-site and directly transported to BMC in Maun.

“Farmers received almost double the average sales within this region, as costs including transportation to quarantine sites, herder’s fees and other associated costs incurred before qualifying for BMC sales were no longer included.”

Through co-financing of almost P1 billion from government and Green Climate Fund, CI says these interventions will be replicated through The Ecosystem Based Adaptation and Mitigation in Botswana’s Communal Range lands project, across the country.

“Both projects aim to improve the economic benefits of cattle owners and multitudes of Batswana households, while contributing to land restoration and climate change efforts by the Botswana government,” concludes the statement.

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