The Masedi Farm Project was established in addition to Peo Holdings (Pty) Ltd and Business Development Fund by Debswana as part of a broad socio-economic investment and citizen empowerment, Parliament has learnt.
The Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, Ponatshego Kedikilwe told the House on Monday that one of the main objectives of the initiative was to contribute towards the social and economic stability of the country.
The project was also meant to generate employment opportunities in the rural areas, create model farming enterprises and demonstrate that agro-industry can be viably established in the country.
However, Kedikilwe said after six years, none of the intentioned objectives was achieved and the company was unable to break even at any time during the period.
Even the seasonal employment created benefited mainly migrant labourers from Zimbabwe as Batswana did not find the minimum wage offered sufficiently attractive.
The project and farmers suffered heavy losses at crop production stage and could not progress to agro-industrial activities because many farmers had given up on it, the minister said.
After a prolonged period of unprofitability, it was clear that Masedi could not realise the desired self-sufficiency, and after consultation with stakeholders, the Debswana Board decided to close the initiative.
Kedikilwe reminded Parliament that the initial agricultural initiative at Pandamatenga was pioneered by private farmers with the assistance of government through the National Development Bank (NDB).
He said the closure of Masedi was premised on purely commercial principles and that continued funding of Masedi's loss-making operations would have amounted to inefficient application of Debswana shareholders' funds.
The government's share of the funding that would have otherwise been channelled to Masedi was subsequently freed to be invested in other national development initiatives.
Kedikilwe said about
"Masedi Farms assisted over 50 subsistence farmers through its out-grower programme," he said, and regular consultations were undertaken with all of these prior to the closure of Masedi.
"The out-growers were advised to group themselves into a co-operative (in order) to benefit from other opportunities of alternative financing outside Masedi's out-grower programme."
Kedikilwe was responding to a question raised by the Member of Parliament for Chobe, Duncan Mlazie regarding whether (or not) the Masedi Farms Project was meant to assist the government in its economic diversification strategy, what had gone wrong with the project and why there was a sudden change of heart by the sponsors.
Mlazie had also asked whether the minister was aware of the negative impact the closure of Masedi had had on the people of Pandamatenga and the economy of the Chobe and the country as a whole.
In another separate question, Mlazie had asked Minister Kedikilwe whether he was aware that Masedi Farms were sold to foreigners, and if this was the case, why the farms were not sold to Batswana as an empowerment initiative, particularly to young farmers trained by Masedi.
To this, Kedikilwe said Masedi Farms did not own the farms it operated and only held them under lease - three from Chobe Land Board, four from DB Holdings and one from a certain Benjamin Mathe. All the leases were disposed of by public auction.