By Kuvee Kangueehi Windhoek A commercial farmer, Jasper Johannes Brand, was named the Meatco Producer of the Year 2006 at a gala dinner held in the capital on Friday night. Brand, who farms in the Outjo district, scored 74% to take first place ahead of Gerhard Schloseer who scored 73% and Reinhard Foertsch who obtained 72% ratings. Meatco awarded the scores based on the quality of carcasses the farmers supplied to the company during the period September 1, 2005 and August 31, 2006. The company also looked at conformation, weight, fat cover and the ages of the carcasses delivered by the farmers to Meatco Abattoir. The judges also considered the damage to hides as well as rejections in awarding the points. For the communal farmers who supply oxen to Meatco, Hangua Alfred took first place for the biggest producer after obtaining 44%, while Muhenje Ikengua also took first place in the smaller producer category at 54% rating. Both farmers supply their cattle to the Oshakati Abattoir in the North. The Chief Executive Officer of Meatco, Kobus du Plessis, thanked the farmers for their commitment towards the company and said the year 2006 has been outstanding. He noted that, despite the very low volumes of cattle, low gross profit margins and the exchange rate, the company has thrived. Du Plessis said the fact that Brazil and Argentina had limited exports and the exchange rate had improved greatly, made the results for Meatco generally very good. “The cattle average weight increased because of the wonderful rains, and this made Meatco’s results positive compared to a very negative outlook earlier.” He noted, however, that Meatco still faces serious challenges because of the ever-decreasing number in slaughtering oxen. He said the nature of the meat industry is unpredictable, and that makes it more difficult. “It is very difficult to predict factors such as rainfall and the international markets because they can change at any time without warning.” He said the one major challenge the company faces is the trade agreement Namibia has with the European Union, which ends in 2007. The CEO acknowledged that the EU is the backbone of his company and generates up to N$600ÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ ‘ÃƒÆ’ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒ…ÃƒÆ’Ã†”Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â 000 million annually in foreign earnings. He added that shortage of necessary skills and knowledge is a problem which both his company and the government can join hands to address it. The Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Paul Smit, who was the keynote speaker at the function, said Namibia has achieved a well-deserved footing in the European and other world markets. “In order for us to continue the presence in these markets, the producers of this country, whether communal or commercial, will need to make a concerted effort to increase the number of slaughter cattle production.” He noted that it was a well-known fact that all the regions in the country were not for slaughter oxen production, but this should not exclude those farmers from being part of the effort to increase cattle numbers in Namibia. He applauded Meatco for the projects it is running to ensure that cattle numbers do not decrease further but said it was really up to all cattle farmers whether these efforts will bear fruit or not. The deputy minister announced that government was looking into ways that will allow for the growth in slaughter oxen production and subsequent value-adding of the product in Namibia to secure the jobs of many who are currently depending on that.