Exporting cattle – the good and bad

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NAMIBIA and in particular the Omaheke Region is on the brink of signing an agreement that will open the Angolan market to Namibian products, especially cattle on the hoof, as well as meat products.

In fact cattle totalling 100 and 200 Boer goats, ten bulls of various breeds like Brahman, Simentalers, etc., as well as 30 rams understandably have already been bought by a consortium of  Angolan farming businesses.

 

The good thing about this is that communal farmers, including emerging ones, seem to have benefitted from this trade agreement. The prices paid for these animals in this regard are not known yet but it is an open secret that such price communal and emerging farmers in Namibia have long been dreaming of, for some time now, and one that in the absence of this Angolan gold mine, shall for long only remain a dream in Namibia.

Especially in view of the suspect syndicate/cartel of buyers currently operative in Namibia that has apparently been working a cahoots with established commercial farmers, and other well-paced players in the industry, against communal farmers in suppressing prices.

While  prices in a free market that Namibia is, are meant to be determined by the forces within the market itself, among them the law of demand and supply, when it comes to the meat market, and especially the marketing of cattle and other animals, such laws and forces, to say the least, have been most ambivalent.

Producers who should be kings are helpless in determining the prices for their products with such product prices instead fixed and inversely pre-determined by the buyers instead, and not necessarily the consumers who should be in fact be king in this regard if anybody should be king at all.

Looks like when it comes to cattle production, it is one of the few areas where the producers, in this regard the communal farmers, where the bulk of the cattle comes from, have little say and have no strings to pull.

Why this is the case, one cannot tell at this stage. But there is no denying the fact that part of the blame lies with the communal farmers themselves who do not seem to have the necessary structures and organisation in place to enable them to call the shots.

This is compounded by the fact that even those in the know, like the intelligentsia, that is, agricultural economists, etc., from these communal areas, seem too detached from these areas, their cradle, to have been of any use in the daily economic struggle of the farming communities, especially in their struggles against the cartels and syndicates. Such have seemed so powerful and formidable, especially vis-a-vis our communal farmers, most of whom have only, at best, rudimentary knowledge of farming and only geared towards subsistence farming.

At every occasion these farmers have brought their marketing plight, especially the pitiful prices their animals have been fetching, their good breeding quality notwithstanding, to the attention of the country if not the world but to no avail.

One such occasion was this year during the pioneering show of the Ongombe  Farmers Association (OFA), the farmers association of communal farmers in the Okamatapati area in the Okakarara constituency, at the Windhoek Show Grounds in July.

The wailings of these farmers – and it was not for the first time this was being heard – was loud and clear.

Those supposed to partner them, take them by the hand and pull and lead them out of their current economic doldrums of communal farming and to the promised land of milk and honey, seemed to be their best nemesis.

Foremost among these players who have been a formidable stumbling block in the advancement of communal farmers  are the various auctioneering houses, and other buyers who have been acting as the middle elements in the marketing of cattle from the communal areas.

There seems to have been an unholy alliance between the various stakeholders in the meat sector, an unholy alliance, which for most part seems to have been pitted against communal producers, who are supposed to be part of the industry, if not its mainstay.

That is why given the current configuration as far as the marketing of cattle in Namibia, and other animals in Namibia goes, it is clear that the die has been heavily loaded against communal producers.

Thus,  one cannot but have an appreciation for the opening up of  the Angolan market, if only in terms of providing a reprieve for our communal breeders and meat producers, given their seeming current stage of siege locally.

But while the Angolan market may seem like the light at the end of the tunnel, one only wishes to sound some serious caution lest our communal farming community does not jump wholesale into this market.

Yes, it may offer an opportunity for them to destock, lured by the seemingly lucrative prices on offer. But destocking at the expense of what? Or alternatively to what?

Is it just for the sake of lucrative prices? I think the strategy as my brother the Governor of the Omaheke Region, Festus Ueitele, is well pointing out, is for the establishment of a local meat processing industry to supply the Angolan market. After all, this is in line with the government’s approach with regard to value addition as opposed to the mere exporting of cattle on the hoof.

I think in this regard, the exporting of cattle on the hoof, and exporting our breeds in toto, thereby also transferring our breeding skills to our northern neighbour, may pose danger to the future of our breeding stock and the meat industry in general.

We have already a lesson to learn from this if one has to refer to the ostrich industry which today seems to have collapsed because we have transferred if not abdicated our rearing abilities to the United States of America (USA).

Thus, it suffices to say that while of course we welcome the opening of the Angolan market for the export of breeds on the hoof, this must be coupled to a conscious strategy to guard against killing our stud industry!

 

By Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro

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