Agra CEO fears for communal farmers… as country waits for new export regulations

By Deon Schlechter

Windhoek

Communal farmers – who occupy about 48% of the total farming area of Namibia and hold approximately 68 percent of the total cattle population, 72 percent of the goats and 17 percent of the sheep – will suffer most if South Africa implements its expected stringent new import regulations in July. Speaking exclusively to New Era yesterday at the launch of Agra’s annual Weaner Competition, CEO of Agra Arnold Klein expressed his severe concerns about the awaited new import regulations.
“The consequences of these regulations, if implemented, will be just too much for especially communal farmers to export their animals. Last year, Agra hosted 15 weaner calf auctions and sold 14 572 animals and in total we sold 124 000 cattle of which the communal areas made a huge contribution,” he commented.
Klein says Agra is just one of many suppliers of weaners and he fears that communal farmers, as the main feeding artery of weaners, will bear the brunt of the new regulations.
“Selling their weaners is the instant and trusted way of putting good money in their pockets and communal farmers’ livelihood will be severely affected by these import regulations,” he said.
Agra general manager for livestock and auctions Titus Koen says the current status regarding market access to South Africa is still open for discussion and therefor Agra has decided to commence its weaner calf competition for this year, regardless of any border issues. “The weaner competition is a highlight for Agra and producers,” he noted. Klein says it is also not viable or sustainable to expect communal farmers to switch to an oxen production system.  “The wait will be just too long for these farmers. I really don’t see light at the end of the tunnel for communal farmers if these regulations are implemented,” he lamented.
Communal farmers differ markedly from the freehold areas in their production systems, objectives and property rights – only the cropping areas are normally allocated to individual households, while the grazing areas tend to be shared by members of a community.
The production systems in the communal areas are based on pastoralism and agro-pastoralism, and the majority of households are subsistence-based and labour intensive, with limited use of technology and external inputs. The outputs and objectives of livestock ownership are much more diverse than in commercial livestock production and include draft power, milk, dung, meat, cash income, capital storage and socio-cultural factors. Production per hectare is more important than production per head, and the communal area livestock owner’s combination of objectives tends to be met by a policy of herd maximisation rather than turnover.
Communal area livestock production contributes some 6 percent of total agricultural output and is mainly confined to the northern part of the country. Stock numbers tend to be less evenly distributed in communal than in commercial areas. There is a tendency for high concentrations of people and livestock near permanent water, while other areas remain potentially underutilized due to a lack of water.
Animal numbers tend to be geared more to the quantity of reliable water than to the reliable quantity of forage, hence drought effects like for the past few years tend to be more severe in communal than in commercial areas. The indigenous Sanga is the dominant breed.
South Africa says the objective of the measures is to align the standards with applicable international guidelines, and that it had held bilateral discussions to resolve concerns with its trading partners. “Neither has South Africa confirmed whether the Standard Handling Procedure (SOP) as communicated with Namibia been accepted or not, nor the contents of a new official veterinary import certificate to accompany the SOP been made known,” says the Meat Board.
Namibia currently exports some 180 000 weaners, 90 000 sheep and 250 000 goats per year to South Africa and the N$2 billion industry is the livelihood of especially small-scale and communal farmers.



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