Beefing up for a revolution

African farmers, particularly those in southern Africa, can benefit from the global boom in the demand for meat says new research that suggests several options for ensuring that the "livestock revolution" does not pass them by.

More effective ways of controlling foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), direct exports to large retailers in the European Union (EU) and targeting the emerging meat market in Asia are some of the proposals suggested by a four-country study in Southern Africa to help beef up exports.

Namibia, Botswana and South Africa - and until recently Zimbabwe - are models for the rest of Africa in setting up a successful livestock export system, according to the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) based at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, which coordinated the research.

"This means meeting increasingly stringent international standards, set according to importing country requirements and the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) agreement of the WTO (World Trade Organisation), and overseen by the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE)," said an IDS outline of the studies.

''Southern Africa has been hit by frequent FMD outbreaks, negatively affecting the region's trade with the EU, whose "zero-tolerance" policies insist on disease-free standards being maintained''

Southern Africa has been hit by frequent FMD outbreaks, negatively affecting the region's trade with the EU, whose "zero-tolerance" policies insist on disease-free standards being maintained.

Preferential trade agreements with the EU have ended, giving way to Economic Partnership Agreements. Ian Scoones of IDS said these had "uncertain consequences for the beef industry, and global supply and competition continues to increase". An interim duty-free and quota-free agreement with the EU is in place.

According to a working paper written by Scoones and freelance researcher William Wolmer, Southern African countries like Angola and Democratic Republic of Congo, "where the region ought to have a competitive advantage", are facing competition for Asian and European markets from South American countries.

Struggle with FMD outbreaks 

FMD is a viral disease carried by wild buffalo, which does not affect humans but has devastating effects on animals with cloven hooves, such as cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and deer, as well as by anthrax, a disease caused by the bacillus anthracis, which can also infect humans.

Steadily rising inflation, which has reached well over 100,000 percent, and an inability to fight FMD outbreaks led to the "rapid unravelling of the large-scale, commercial Zimbabwean beef industry".

"A few years of disruption to movement control, breaching of veterinary fencing, and lack of funds for vaccines meant that FMD ran rampant from 2001, cutting off EU markets at a stroke," said Scoones and Wolmer. The government's failure to address bovine diseases has reduced Zimbabwe's commercial herd from 1.4 million in 2000 to about 250,000 head of cattle at present.

Poor farmers in Namibia have been unable to access the lucrative EU markets because, 15 years after independence, the country is still divided in two, largely along racial lines: a 'diseased' area behind a 'red line' fence, where most of the black population live; and a 'disease free' area on the other side, where mostly white ranchers enjoy the benefits of a well-funded veterinary service and access to lucrative markets, said the researchers.

"In Botswana, too, the vulnerability of the beef industry is also increasingly evident, with an estimated US$38 million of revenues having been lost as a result of the 2003 FMD outbreak," Scoones and Wolmer noted.

"In South Africa, meanwhile, the contrasts between the largely white-owned commercial sector and the livestock production systems of the former homelands remain as stark as ever. FMD outbreaks in 2003 and 2004 were contained, but only at significant cost to the government, which implemented a large-scale vaccination campaign and a rigorous implementation of movement control."

Attempts to control outbreaks by setting up fences along country borders in the region have often proven to be controversial and ineffective.

Solutions

Poor farmers are unable to put in place measures to control the FMD or comply with the stringent EU standards. The new research suggests adopting measures to ensure the safety, quality and processing of meat products. "Milk, butter, cheese and deboned beef can be traded safely if processing methods are effectively regulated, instead of the country's disease status," according to the IDS.

"Most supermarket buyers are not concerned with the disease-freedom status of the country of origin, but of the safety of the meat they put on the market, and so most expertise and focus in private standard setting is focused on the product, rather than disease-control systems overall," Scoones and Wolmer pointed out. They recommended targeting supermarkets in the EU.

Researchers have suggested that the region explore the growing markets in Asia, which have less stringent quality-control issues. "These [Asian markets] are increasingly competitive markets, where bilateral deals based on political connections may be fairly transient in the face of global competition."

However, with rising prices, particularly for feedstuffs, given the strong demand for grains for biofuels, it was "unclear whether such demand will continue to grow at such a pace, and whether this will focus on red meat or other sources of animal-based protein, particularly in Asia," Scoones told IRIN.

"It is also unclear whether the growing demand will result in greater supply in Asia or whether this will be satisfied through imports from outside, including Africa. However, global concern about climate change and the impacts of different agricultural practices may make meat derived from rangeland, rather than intensive feeding systems, a more acceptable product in certain markets and southern African producers may be able to capitalise on this."

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