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Botswana Cattle: Booming Exports Mask Underlying Challenges in Traditional Industry

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Botswana’s cattle industry, a cornerstone of the economy and a symbol of national pride is experiencing a boom in exports but faces underlying challenges that threaten its long-term sustainability.

Botswana boasts the world’s largest cattle herd per capita, with exports exceeding 200,000 head in 2023, driven by strong demand from neighboring South Africa and beyond. This surge has generated significant revenue, contributing roughly 15% to the national GDP and providing livelihoods for thousands of farmers.

“The export market is booming, with prices at record highs,” says John Modisane, head of the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC), the state-owned monopoly responsible for processing and exporting cattle. “This is a positive development for our farmers and the economy.”

However, beneath the rosy export figures lie significant challenges. Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreaks continue to disrupt exports, particularly to lucrative European markets. The recent outbreak in the Ngamiland district has led to temporary export bans, highlighting the vulnerability of the industry to such diseases.

“FMD is a constant threat,” warns Dr. Mmamontsho Molefe, director of the Department of Veterinary Services. “We need to invest more in prevention and control measures to ensure market access and protect our farmers.”

Beyond FMD, concerns linger about the industry’s long-term viability. Overgrazing and climate change are degrading pastures, leading to decreased livestock productivity and threatening the ecological balance of the Kalahari ecosystem. Additionally, the traditional model of cattle ranching, heavily reliant on communal grazing lands, faces challenges in adapting to modern economic realities.

“We need to move towards a more sustainable and commercialized model,” argues Thapelo Matsheka, president of the Botswana Livestock Association. “This includes improved rangeland management, diversification of breeds, and adoption of new technologies.”

The future of Botswana’s cattle industry hinges on addressing these challenges. Continued investment in disease control, sustainable rangeland management, and modernization are crucial to ensure the industry’s long-term prosperity. Collaboration between government, industry players, and farmers is essential to navigate these complexities and secure a sustainable future for this iconic sector.

“The potential for Botswana’s cattle industry is immense,” concludes Modisane. “But we must act now to address the challenges and ensure this vital sector continues to thrive for generations to come.”