The liquidation of the controversial Botswana Development Corporation’s Palapye Fengyue glass project was a disappointment for the soda ash and salt producers, Botswana Ash (Botash).
Botash, which is currently the biggest supplier to South African market with about 60 percent, had pinned its hopes to supply Botswana’s first glass manufacturers, Fengyue glass plant in Palapye. Unfortunately, the glass project did not see the light of day and faced liquidation.
Responding to Business Trends during a press briefing this past Tuesday about looking for local markets, Botash Managing Director, Montwedi Mphathi said, “the Palapye plant was a disappointment. We had concluded that we would supply about 30 000 tonnes to them per annum.” Unfortunately the project was later said to be not viable. “We pleaded with BDC to find other alternative ways but they said the market would not survive and therefore it cannot be continued,” added Mphathi.
Afterwards, BDC engaged a glass-manufacturing consortium from UK to conduct a due diligence of the project. It advised that the project was not a viable business operation. BDC boss, Bashi Gaetsaloe once confirmed to the parliamentary statutory bodies’ committee in 2015 that, glass manufacturing in Botswana was proven to be extremely risky and unprofitable. Meanwhile, glass production is the largest application for dense soda ash.
About half of the soda ash produced worldwide is used in the manufacture of glass. In this application, soda ash is used as a fluxing agent in that it lowers the melting temperature of the raw material – pure silica – thereby reducing energy requirements for glass production.
Container glass covers a wide range of different products that include bottles, jars and other containers. About 46percent of all glass that is manufactured is used for container glass. Flat glass accounts for 42 percent of glass production and includes items such as architectural glass, car windscreens, windows, mirrors and frames.
Other glass manufacture accounts for 12 percent of glass production and includes textile, fibre optics and insulation fibre glass. It is understood that there is currently only one flat glass manufacturer in South Africa that is Botash’ s biggest consumer of soda ash; whilst the other six are importers.
With the South African market combined with the BDC glass project, it would have been a better opportunity for Botash. Moreover, Botash sells around 20 percent of soda ash to the chemical industry sector. In this sector, both dense and light soda ash is used in large number of chemical reactions to produce inorganic or organic compounds that are in turn used in a range of different applications.
It can be used to produce sodium silicates that have a wide range of uses in the production of chemicals such as silica. It also has application in pulp and paper manufacturing.
Botswana Railways hit by fuel theft
Botswana Railways lost fuel business due to continuous incidents of stolen fuel from the tanks and delays mainly at Mafikeng, in the north Western side of South Africa.
Botswana Railways Chief Executive Officer Leonard Makwinja said, during 2017/2018, their biggest failure was in this area. “Our biggest failure in this aspect was on imports, transporting of fuel from South Africa proved to be a challenge.
There have been incidents of fuel loss on tankers, sometimes a delay in Mafikeng when trains changed and when it arrives in Botswana the tank would be half empty, “said Makwinja. He said this was worsened by allegations that road transportation was cheaper. Currently, they have employed a fuel consultant to look into the whole fuel transportation. “We believe a solution will be found soon.”
The BR Chief explained they heavily rely on the relationship with Transnet to successfully execute its freight mandate. Most of the imports through rail come from South Africa and the main export through rail which is salt and soda ash is transported from Botash to Mafikeng. “Going onwards we have to depend on Transnet for connections to the respective destinations. Our strategic plan going forward is to improve our services to the oil companies so that we are more reliable, timely and profitable.”
During the period, Makwinja said they had to focus on cost containment. The main cost drivers are staff cost, fuel and maintenance of the locomotives. In his statement on Botswana Railways 2018 annual report, Makwinja said the organization’s performance was subdued due to lack of capacity to meet the demand. “In terms of tonnage, our target was 2 million tons but we only achieved 1, 5 million tons. This adverse variance can be attributed to a number of factors including lack of sufficient locomotives and practicing conservative business initiatives and marketing,” he said.
Calls to improve crop yields with technology
Greenhouse Technologies managing director, Amanda Masire has urged entrepreneurs to venture into agriculture as it is a lucrative business and more beneficial to the national economic development, despite climate change challenges.
Speaking to Business Trends, Masire said there is a need for more training and knowledge on modern agriculture technologies for the country to have sustainable food production. “I am passionate about agriculture and food production. I want to help my country to produce food for itself and reduce dependency on imports. I have learnt that despite all the challenges of climate change, we can still produce our own food through the use of modern technologies,” said Masire.
Masire is an agri-business developer, specializing in horticulture, beekeeping and fish farming. She currently operates Greenhouse Farmers Academy offering training and mentorship on horticulture farming. “Agriculture is the most lucrative business that young people should be looking into. Currently, we depend much on South Africa. We should rise up and develop the sector because as Batswana we have rich land that we are not utilising.” Her services include horticulture starter kit, which includes business plans, lessons, fertilisers and all equipments necessary for a particular horticulture project.
She is currently working with the Ministry of Agriculture Development and Food Security to develop the ISPAAD Program. She said government would embrace modern farming technologies to improve food production. “Most Batswana have lands which they are currently not ploughing because of climate change conditions while the government gives out fertilizers and seeds every year to subsistence farmers yet there is no yield. I have come up with solutions, which include testing soil and supplying lime treatment to reduce acidity. This will help improve crop yield when adopted with other technologies,” she said.
Speaking during Stanbic Lionness Lean In Africa, Masire said with the challenges in the agriculture sector, Batswana should stop looking much into the problems and getting discouraged but should rather think of solutions. “Government is trying but we individuals also need to be innovative and assist government in improving food security. Young people should take opportunity of the agri-business market and reduce unemployment,” said Masire.
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