Stakeholders Brainstorm on Beef

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By Chrispin Inambao KATIMA MULILO BEEF producers in the Caprivi region where hundreds of cattle are slaughtered mainly for the South African market held a daylong stakeholder meeting that discussed a wide range of issues such as prices, meat quality and consumer preferences. The region has a stock of 155 000 cattle, almost double the number of people. Meatco’s Plant Manager at Katima Abattoir, Cyprianus Khaiseb, convened last Friday’s gathering at a lodge on the banks of the Zambezi River and whose delegates included the acting Caprivi Regional Governor Leonard Mwilima. It emerged during the stakeholder gathering that communal farmers in the region do not sell their beef to Europe where it fetches premium price, but produce animals that are small and that fail to make the grade required for choice cuts. Caprivi being among the regions located north of the cordon fence does not have access to European markets where importers are wary of the disease-prone zone and a raft of stringent veterinary control measures prescribed by European importers. Though on average between eight hundred to a thousand beasts are slaughtered per month at Katima Abattoir, under ninety percent of this meat lands on South African plates and a mere one percent or even less is consumed locally, according to Meatco. It was felt that locals mainly prefer offal – a delicacy among Africans. One of the reasons why the bulk of the beef is exported is the fact that some consumers prefer buying their meat from informal butcheries scattered in the area and that the preference of fish over red meat that causes gout and high cholestrol levels could also be the other factor contributing to lower sales by the beef agency. Even a formal butchery that was run by local entrepreneurs folded because it apparently sold less than twenty carcasses monthly because of consumer preferences, a situation that also caused other problems such as meat stored for lengthy periods. Khaiseb, Meatco’s plant manager at Katima Mulilo, said eighty percent of livestock slaughtered on average yield a mere 160 kg of beef once the animals have been skinned and the hooves, heads and the offal are removed. Meatco says an ideal carcass weight for cattle will be 230 kg because consumers want bigger lump and T-bone steaks that cannot be cut from small animals. Twenty percent of these animals have carcases weighing above 200 kg, and 60 to 70 percent of the slaughtered cattle yield meat that is in the C-grade category because many villagers only auction their animals when they are too old to plough or be milked. According to statistics from Meatco, cattle whose meat makes B-grade consist of 15 percent, while A-grade meat comes from less than five percent. One of the factors impacting negatively on the quality of carcasses from the region are whip marks inflicted on cattle when villagers whip the animals to hasten ploughing during the planting season. Delegates were further of the view that whip marks apart from scarring cattle hides which in turn lower the prices of hides, tend to leave marks that are visible once the animals have been skinned. Subsistence activities such as ploughing and using the animals to pull heavy loads and subjecting them to travel for long distances in search of better pastures and even water cause high stress levels in these animals and this in turn could affect beef quality. Farmers involved in beef production also feel the prices paid by Meatco are ridiculously too low, but the meat corporation says they should produce high-quality beef if they are to maximise the profit from cattle sales. Meatco claims that it offers better prices than the ones being given by its rivals in Botswana and South Africa. The meeting resolved to organise joint public meetings involving Meatco, the Directorate of Engineering and Extension Services (DEES), Likwama Farmers’ Cooperative Union (LFCU) where the public would be given tips on how to improve meat quality in order for them to get reasonable prices from their cattle. The meeting delegated the Directorate of Veterinary Services to source funds possibly from Meat Board Namibia and Meatco that it could use for the purchase of a new engine to be used at existing quarantine facili-ties. They also felt all stakeholders including some communal farmers should contribute to maintenance of quarantine camps and infrastructure. Delegates were further of the view that levies should be introduced for all the cattle marketed through the quarantine. Another resolution was that fire belts should be constructed around quarantine camps to prevent bush fires. Government will provide the equipment for this purpose. Lastly, the Directorate of Veterinary Services was given a mandate to organise in-house training courses for its staff so that they would be better equipped to deal with fires that may occur inside quarantine camps. In his official statement, the acting Regional Governor said the gathering was important because cattle provide a livelihood to thousands who depend on sales from livestock to buy food and to pay for school fees. Similar meetings are being planned for April/May and September/October.