THE MAKING OF BOTSWANA’S POULTRY INDUSTRY

Far from setting out to run a monopoly, Abdul Satar Dada says him and a few other big players in the business like him attained self-sufficiency in poultry for Botswana through sheer hard work and focus. In an exclusive interview, he tells Staff Writers KEABETSWE NEWEL and KITSO DICKSON about a programme to turn graduates into entrepreneurs ready to run successful businesses

THE MAKING OF BOTSWANA’S POULTRY INDUSTRY

Last week The Business Weekly & Review published an article that showed that control of the chicken industry value chain was, at least the bulk of it, in the hands of two families, the Satar Dada family and the Derek Brink family. The article came at a time when there are some people who feel that the poultry industry is a vicious monopoly that keeps out new entrants as marginalised small players. This week, this publication sat down with Dada, the biggest player in the chicken business, to understand from him what exactly happens in the industry.

Dada believes that most Batswana misunderstand the poultry industry so much that the value created in Botswana is unappreciated. About 20 years ago, he says, Botswana was importing poultry meat and poultry products. The commercial poultry production in Botswana only began in the early 1980s. At that time, Botswana imported most poultry meat and products from countries like South Africa, shipping out millions of pula. Dada says Botswana also imported processed chicken products from countries like SA and Zimbabwe. At that time however, Batswana struggled to access processed chicken products.

The first players to jump into the chicken business were Derek Brink and his partners, as well as the late Managing Director (MD) of Debswana, Louis Nchindo, who operated out of Notwane. They too imported a lot then, even eggs and day-old chicks. But somehow Nchindo was unsuccessful in that business and ended up selling it to Dada at around the late 1990s. The chicken business was at that time a new venture which lacked expertise and experience. “It was not easy for anyone to run something that they did not know but I was willing to learn and determined to succeed,” he says.

He says he grew the business from nothing because at that time Botswana was importing day-old chicks from South Africa. “I kept asking myself, why we should import day-old chicks when we could do it ourselves?” he says. Determined, Dada states that he and his partners in South Africa then built a hatchery. He had employed quality and capable management with experience and expertise in the poultry business because he did not know “all these things”.  “All this time I was paying attention when these guys did what they knew in the chicken business,” he notes. “I leant how the business operates.”

Through the hatchery, Dada’s chicken production soon became self-sufficient and stopped importing day-old chicks from South Africa. After attaining self-sufficiency, Dada then expanded by buying Dikoko Tsa Botswana (Pty) Ltd in the north of the country. “I then got a group of young Batswana to partner with me,” he recalls. “Unfortunately the first group pulled out after a year or two while the second group stayed with me. But because they are non-compliant to requirements at BURS and other authorities, we could not participate in institutional tenders to supply in bulk.”

Dada then joined Master Farmer (Pty) Ltd and Nutri Feeds (Pty) Ltd to further expand his chicken business. However, he says the business runs independently and has its own hatchery and layers. “So that is how I grew the chicken business. As we speak, we are number one in the market,” he notes. Dada asserts that because of his efforts, importation of day-old chicks, eggs and chicken eventually stopped as Botswana is now able to meet local demand. While all that happened, Dada states that he was not only one in the business. “Derek Brink is in the business,” he says. “We have Richmark and Moleps and other chicken businesses. Choppies is also a player.”

To-date the poultry industry in Botswana is valued at an estimated P4 billion, according to statistics from Botswana Institute of Development and Policy Analysis (BIDPA). Dada eagerly points out that this value could all be going to South Africa through imports if the chicken industry was not developed. According to him, what people do not know is that he plays “a very big role” in mentoring and developing smaller players in the industry. “Through the chicken business alone, we employ over 1270 people,” he notes. “Most of them at their time of employment are oblivious of what happens in chicken production. After learning how the business operates, some of them decide to open their small operations with the skills they leant at my business.”

Dada says he currently supports what they call contract growers. These are people who have land and poultry houses but lack the money to finance operations. “I have taken a number of them under my wing to help develop their businesses,” he explains. “I simply give them the one-day old chicks, feeds, vaccine, technical suppoprt and everything that is needed in the production chain. All they have to do is take care of the chickens until they can be sold for profit.” He says some contract growers end up making a profit while those who seem to be less committed fail. He gives the example of one contract grower who was given 35 000 chicks plus feeds and vaccines but made a loss of around P123 000 after production. By contrast, another contract grower was given 24 000 chicks and the inputs and made P167 000 in profit. “You see that the one who had more chicks made losses while the one with fewer chicks made a success of things,” says Dada, now a mentor. “We found out that the one who made a loss was always absent and left the business to farm workers. This is the mentality of many other Batswana who tend to fail. They are not committed to their businesses and do not put in the work.”

He argues that he and a few others like him seem to be monopolising the chicken industry and muscling the small guys out when the point is that they are committed and focused on growing their businesses. “There is no such thing,” he says. “The big guys and many other players in the poultry industry make sure that their quality, pricing and production meet certain standards that the retailers want. It is not about blocking the market but rather producing what the market wants.”

He discloses that he will soon be rolling out a programme for training graduates into entrepreneurs by upskilling them in order that they may run sustainable businesses.