Boost for Namibia’s Beef

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK Namibia’s largest local beef processor Meatco has embarked on a new marketing strategy to stabilise the ever-decreasing number of cattle in the country. Newly appointed Chief Executive Officer of Meatco Kobus du Plessis says by re-looking at current market strategies the number of cattle being contracted by Meatco for slaughter could solve the challenge facing the company. This will be achieved by improving current communication between the company and its stakeholders while looking especially at the procurement measures and the pricing structure of the business. “Plans are underway to move Meatco from being a commodity driven marketing business to a more specialised niche market with specific customer needs”, explained Du Plessis, who was appointed Meatco CEO on 1 May this year. The new marketing strategy would also focus on opportunities for more value addition to Namibian beef products locally, a brand building process and improving the relationship between the company’s workforce and management for enhanced efficiency. The decrease in the number of cattle for slaughter is however not a new phenomenon as natural conditions of drought, bush encroachment, live export of animals and the rising prices for animals on the hoof have significantly contributed to this current worrying trend. In addition, the conversion of farmland into game farming and tourism lodges have also led to the decline. Over the years, Meatco has contracted declining numbers of cattle for slaughter at the country’s main abattoirs. One of the major concerns is that if the situation is left unaddressed, the country will face a further decline of livestock numbers and less cattle being slaughtered, which could lead to more closures of abattoirs and loss of jobs and, eventually, declining economic benefits. The figures tell it all. In 1956, the country had 2.6-million head of cattle in areas South of the Veterinary Cordon Fence (SVCF). The number which stood at 900 000 last year now stands at 800 000 head of cattle. “This issue is a big concern and a real challenge,” said Du Plessis, adding that although the Northern Communal Areas have 1,2-million cattle and the expectation is that 20 000 would be slaughtered in abattoirs this year, this is way below capacity. Meatco projects that it will make a financial loss at the end of the year if this situation persists. However, Du Plessis noted that there is huge potential for growth for the beef industry in the north. This would be made possible when the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry adopts a programme of action to transform communal livestock farming into a modern industry by eventually translocating the Veterinary Cordon Fence (VCF). In view of this, Du Plessis sees the importance of supporting the commercialisation of the northern areas by freeing up the areas for maximum output from the livestock for sustainable economic development. “Currently, the yields and monetary value of the carcases are of less value and there is a need for sophistication of the beef products through branding. The commercial herd is at present declining and not used optimally”, he explained. It is believed that the low numbers of cattle coming through would ultimately have a negative financial impact on the company, especially in terms of profitability at the end of the year. However, Du Plessis believes that through the new marketing drive and value addition measures, this situation can be turned around. It is assumed that the beef industry remains an economically viable industry as the country’s beef has a high reputation in the European market and is in a far better position to market its product overseas. Norway is at the moment still a very lucrative Namibian beef importer, besides South Africa and the European Union in general. Although Angola is not a viable market for Meatco due to the lack of formal structure within which to operate as well as being a “price-sensitive market,” according to the CEO, it could become a viable market within the next 10 to 15 years.