Friday 20 October 2006

Celebrate local produce

Last week I went off the deep end and criticised the latest government intervention into our marketplace. As you may all know now the Government have banned the importation of some pretty risky items into the country. Already on the list of banned things were weapons-grade plutonium, narcotics and pornography but now it seems that our way of life is threatened by some even more dangerous items.


Yes, instead of banning what I think are real threats to civilisation like third-rate imported soap operas, the intensely condescending Dr Phil and above all, people who can’t or won’t pronounce Gaborone correctly, the Government has decided to ban foreign potatoes, cabbages and onions.

Yet again I need to say that we should all support local produce. Our local growers of food deserve our support, they deserve some assistance from the Government and they deserve lots of publicity. However they ONLY deserve this when what they produce is as good as what we can import. We have shown in Botswana already that we can produce the best beef, some fantastic fruit and vegetables and we make a fine bottle of beer as well. But that doesn’t mean that everything we produce is good enough yet and we certainly don’t seem to be there yet with potatoes.

I really do feel that by banning foreign competition we are not doing the local growers any favours. We’re not helping them, we’re just over-protecting them. Just like a schoolchild who wants someone to do his homework or sit an examination for him it doesn’t actually do him any good in the long run. It’s only by exposing your product to competition that you find out if it’s going to succeed. Competition is the ultimate test. It will test, like evolution tests the genetic suitability of an organism, whether it’s suitable for it’s environment. Curiously it’s often not even the best product that succeeds. It’s just the one that is most suitable to what the market, what the people actually want.

I don’t believe that anyone in their right mind can seriously suggest that Coke is an awesomely good product. It just satisfies a huge demand for hideously over-sweetened, obesity-inducing, tooth-rotting fizzy syrup. The market has a space for such a thing and Coke do an excellent job of filling it.

So what do I think Government should be doing to support local producers? Do I have a better idea? Well, I don’t have any easy solutions but I have a clue where they might lie.

Start by following that old saying about the role Government should play in people’s welfare. People should be given “a leg up, not a hand out”. Instead of over-protecting them, just make life a little easier for them. Take away a few of the real threats to a business during it’s start-up period. For instance, what about exempting citizen-owned farmers from corporation tax for the first two years of business?

What about free evening classes for new farmers on business management, basic accounting and marketing. The channels for this already exist via the Department of Non-Formal Education in the Ministry of Education. Why not make these courses compulsory in order to get the tax breaks?

What about selling them redundant government computers? They won’t be the most up-to-date and high-powered but they will be cheap, perfectly capable of writing letters, running simple accounts programs and producing simple marketing materials.

This is the opposite of what happens now. Instead of giving money to new citizen-owned businesses I think we should just take less of it away from them. Let them keep more of their own hard-earned money to re-invest in equipment and staff. It will help to keep their costs down, their profits higher and above all will allow them to develop real business experience by encouraging them to compete in the open market.

Now THAT would be real empowerment. Remember per ardua ad astra. Through adversity to the stars!

Free advertising

Here’s an offer to local food producers. Something that may help them just a little bit. If you think your produce is as good as or better than foreign imports give us a call. We promise to review it and if we think it’s as good as you say we’ll advertise it in this column, on our radio show and on our web site, entirely free of charge.

This week’s joke

There was once a parastatal company working towards privatisation that placed an advertisement in the national press asking it’s customers to contact them to confirm their telephone numbers. OK, that’s not very funny is it? Is it any funnier if the utility in question is Botswana Telecommunications Corporation?

According to the advertisement they are working hard to develop next year’s telephone directory and are asking customers who want to correct their entries in the current directory to give them a call. Presumably they can’t call us because they are using the old directory? The one full of errors? The one that printed as my home telephone number a number I’d stopped using 2 years ago? Maybe that’s why they can’t call me to check?

Hang on though, can’t they just compare the directory entries with what they have in their billing system? Just a thought.

This week’s stars!

  • Reuben and colleagues from Car World in Gaborone for speedy, responsive and friendly service.
  • Officer Kerekang from Naledi Police Station for friendly service.
  • Shadrack at New Capitol Cinemas at Game City for sorting out a problem with a smile.
  • Botswana Telecommunications Corporation for breaking our record for the longest time taken by a parastatals to respond to a customer complaint, currently 84 days!

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