D-Day for Sheep Farmers

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK The Namibian border will effectively be closed to live sheep exports, mainly to South Africa, as from Friday, according to the chairperson of the Livestock Producers Organisation (LPO), Ryno van der Merwe. September 1, 2006 is the target date for implementation of the new revised Small Stock Marketing Scheme. When the new scheme comes into effect the ratio will change from two locally slaughtered animals to one exported animal. From Friday small stock farmers will have to slaughter six sheep in Namibia before they are allowed to export even one. The government originally proposed the ratio should be 9:1 but after intense consultations between the Livestock Producers Forum and government this was reduced to 6:1. Van der Merwe said that even at a 6:1 ratio, it would mean the borders are effectively closed to live sheep exports. The new regulation will mean a farmer will have to slaughter 1 200 sheep before being allowed to export 200, making the whole exercise largely impractical. The government’s decision to restrict the export of sheep is inspired by its policy to increase local value adding of Namibian primary products, with the aim to create jobs and boost the local economy. The move is likely to be particularly damaging to communal sheep farmers who produce mainly fat-tail and so-called “off-grade” sheep. Fat-tail and off-grade mutton is used almost exclusively for manufactured meat products. They can command relatively good prices on the South African market where there is a large market for manufactured meat products. But in Namibia there is little demand for the high fat content meat from fat-tail sheep, or the lean carcasses from off-grade animals. These two categories of sheep fetch very low prices on the local market – sometimes up to N$2 or N$3 less than on the South African market. Van der Merwe said the LPO supports the aims of local value adding and job creation in principle, but not to the detriment of producers. “We want to support the government’s vision with regard to local value adding, but we also want to get the same prices we would receive at auctions for the South African market,” Van der Merwe said. The Executive Director of the Namibia National Farmers Union, Vehaka Tjimune, appeared somewhat less alarmed about the possible impact of the new marketing scheme. Tjimune said that a 6:1 ratio would still allow Namibia to export live sheep, something which would not have been possible at a 9:1 ratio. He was however highly critical of the way abattoir operators were using the political arena to source products, rather than operating within the parameters of the free market. “Abattoirs are using Cabinet pronouncements on value addition to source throughput. If one abattoir is slaughtering at 80% of capacity and another at 40% is it a problem of supply, or competitiveness,” he questioned. Tjimune also pointed to the fact that local abattoirs are not really keen on fat-tail or off-grade sheep, consequently paying very little for such animals. Grazing conditions in Namibia on the other hand make it very difficult for communal farmers to keep sheep in a good condition and make them slaughter ready at any time of the year. He charged that many of the problems local abattoirs faced were of their own making, because they were doing little to develop new markets and new products. If they put more effort into innovative uses for the type animals Namibia produces, they would be able to pay the same prices paid in South Africa and would have no problem sourcing product. “In the end if there are no primary producers left, what value are you going to add and to what product? Manufacturers must also learn to appreciate the role primary producers play,” he remarked.