Q: Please introduce the Botswana Exporters and Manufacturers Association to our readers?
A: The Botswana Exporters and Manufacturers Association is a business membership organization that was established well over two decades ago (1995), with the purpose of serving as the voice of reason for all local manufacturing and exporting companies.
The Association provides services that are not limited to, business consultancy, networking opportunities, business advocacy, establishing business linkages, policy advisory and others. Throughout the years, we have incurred hurdles and strides within the sector. We however continue to tirelessly steer the sector towards auspicious prospects. Our vision and goal is premised on the success of the sector at large, for we can only thrive as a prime ‘BMO’ only if the sector also thrives.
Q: When did you take over as BEMA CEO?
A: I took over as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Association four years ago, taking up a role that is exciting as I am very much passionate about sector issues.
Q: Please share with us what the mandate of BEMA is?
A: We work closely with national, regional and global bodies. At national level, we work closely with institutions such as the Ministry of Investment Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Finance and other key state owned enterprises. The Association represents authoritatively in different committees from various government departments, such as the Technical Committee on Market Access (TCMA). We also Co-Chair the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Reference group, where we serve to create awareness on the countless opportunities that the American market has to offer Botswana textile manufacturers.
Through these platforms we are positioned to effectively execute the mandate of the Association, which is to serve the specific needs or concerns of our membership base and the manufacturing sector as a whole. We do so through making advocacy and policy recommendations that align with the betterment of the local manufacturing and exports sector. We have been successful in achieving our mandate; such is evidenced by the fact that over a third of our recommendations have in the past been adopted.
Q: How would you describe the state of manufacturing as an economic sector in Botswana?
A: The manufacturing sector has the potential to be a key contributor to Botswana’s economy. It is cited often that manufacturing is the most productive aspect of the economy, taking into consideration value addition aspects such as contribution to employment growth and others. However, the sector has a long way to go, faced with many challenges that have existed before the outbreak of the pandemic. These challenges can be classified as tariff and non-tariff barriers; there is a need for a tactful short and long-term approach for addressing these challenges.
Q: Kindly elaborate on these challenges and how they can be addressed?
A: The sector is faced with a set of challenges such as market access hurdles, inadequate financing opportunities, non-tariff barriers such as cross border delays and unfavorable foreign exchange rates that in effect render our local manufactured goods uncompetitive globally (high-pricing), land acquisition hurdles etc.
As BEMA, we are hands on in tackling such issues; we do not leave the onus with the state to handle matters. We are working in tandem with the USAID Trade-Hub on a supplier development program that serves to ensure suppliers align or are in conformity with market requirements; this essentially helps to better position local products to attain local shelf space in retail stores as well as to penetrate foreign markets. We have an online platform called BEMA Stores, a multi-vendor e-commerce platform that enable the traders to transact, it is important to note that we live in a rapidly evolving society and one way of boosting sales is leveraging on the opportunities that technology has to offer, and we have done so by creating a platform for Botswana businesses to indulge in commerce online. The success of this platform is enormous as we can attest to local businesses already receiving overseas orders.
Q: Generally, Botswana is less industrialized with the manufacturing sector playing a smaller role in the economy. What potential does the sector have in Botswana?
A: The edge that the manufacturing sector has is that of tapping into value chains. That is one way the sector can grow. If there is a large scale business that relies on input materials from across the border in order to make a final product, such a company could at least consider procuring input material in a considerable ratio from local manufacturers, that would help in sustaining the small scale manufacturing business and later on their growth.
Q: What opportunities in the manufacturing sector have you identified?
A: We are actively in pursuit of market opportunities for our members and the sector at large and have identified new markets that could better serve the local sector. Markets such as South Africa, India and Pakistan, provide an opportunity for manufacturers who have been producing on a small scale due to a lack of market. These markets are just a tip of the ice-berg, as they require a product offering that our small and medium scale manufacturers could supply and of course issues around capacitation by government would then be an essential component.
Q: As BEMA, what projects and programmes are you doing currently aimed at uplifting the manufacturing sector?
A: The Association has a collaboration with the British Council, Trade Forward Southern Africa to identify the training needs of companies. A large majority of Botswana businesses started off as informal business and later elevated to the formal business status. However it is quite clear that most of their business require investing in human capital because there is a gap in the required skills. This program essentially carries out an analysis of various companies within the manufacturing space and provides them with relevant feedback on areas they need to invest in, regarding human capital training.
We are also working in tandem with the USAID Trade-Hub on a Suppler Development Program that serves to ensure suppliers align or are in conformity with market requirements. One of the most overlooked aspects of business is conformity to local and international standards. However, it is a key component to ensuring that a business attains and retains market share. As such we aim, through this program to bring local producers into conformity with requisite standards, this is not only of benefit to their business but the nation at large. The country needs to maintain a positive persona of conformity at international level, this is key when negotiating at trade-bloc.
BEMA has an online platform called BEMA Stores, a multi-vendor e-commerce platform that enable the traders to transact. One of the notable changes that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought is that of restriction in seller to buyer interaction amongst a plethora of other restrictions. This in effect has caused a plummet in sales volumes of local manufacturers and exporters. As a solution to combat this vice, we have established a digital ecommerce platform called BEMA Stores with one of our partners. Through this platform manufacturers and individual business owners will be able to transact from their factory premises or from anywhere in the world. The results of the online platform are quite pleasant as local businesses are even receiving orders in volumes from across the border and overseas.
Q: Who are the members of BEMA, and how many members does BEMA currently have?
A: BEMA currently has well over 450 companies within the membership, a figure that is continuously on the rise. Within our membership base, we have large, medium and small scale entities; we have women owned enterprises as well as youth owned businesses. The companies that we represent come from various sub-sectors such as, agro products, chemicals, construction, furniture, information technology, textile, packaging, vaccines, canvas , electrical, meat, mining, tourism, jewelry etc.