The gauntlet seems to have finally been thrown to the ground, and heavily so it seems as much as the consequences thereof must still be assessed, with the South African veterinary authorities finally deciding on implementing strict import regulations effective from July 1. And this time the South African authorities do not seem to be bluffing.
To underline the seriousness of the matter, leaders of the livestock and meat industry this week sought audience with the head of state, Dr Hage Geingob, pleading for his intervention. And it remains to be seen if his liaison with perhaps his South African counterpart may and could prevent what obviously is a catastrophe for the Namibian agricultural sector.
Among others, the new regulations applicable to the whole Southern African region require that an entire herd from which any animal may be imported into South Africa, must have tested, and negatively so, against TB and Brucella bovis. Further, they must have been vaccinated against the contagious Bovine rhinotracheitis (IB) and Pustular vulvovaginitis (IPV) no more than six months and no less than a month before their import into South Africa.
The consequences for the Namibian agricultural sector of these regulations, which have now been gazzeted in our southern neighbour, and thus now law, cannot be ascertained as yet but it goes without saying that they may prove to be dire. But worse is the unpalatable reality that the Namibian agricultural sector seems to have been caught with its proverbial pants down, with little evidence of any contingency plan or worst case scenario to fall back on, despite the fact that it has been known for close to two years now, or more, that these strict regulations would come into effect, sooner rather than later.
One must recognise that the Namibian livestock industry, since the news of the regulations surfaced, about two or three years back, has indeed been actively engaged and seized with the matter with the involvement of all interested parties imaginable, including the Office of the Prime Minister. Not least, a strong Namibian delegation earlier this year took the matter to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Ultimately, with the regulations now seeming a fait accompli the die seems to have been cast.
It is not certain and clear what the role of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry has been hitherto regarding this matter, but surely it must take a bold lead now together with its partners in the livestock industry to see what plan the country can fall back on. Belated as it may seem, needless whatever contingency plan it comes up with, it cannot be insignificant to cushion, in the short term, the impact of the application of these regulations, which is feared to be enormous.
These regulations have been described as so extensive to make them practically impossible for both livestock producers and speculators to export their livestock to feedlots and abattoirs in South Africa.
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. Communal farmers occupy 48% of the total farming area of Namibia and hold about 68% of the total cattle population, 72% of the goats and 17 % of the sheep. As per the recent testimony of Agra chief executive officer, Arnold Klein, Agra held 15 weaner calf auctions last year, selling 124 000 cattle of which communal farmers made a huge contribution.
Communal areas’ livestock production contributes 5-6% of the total agricultural output. Communal farmers may not be selling directly to South Africa, but since the auctioneering companies source a substantial number of livestock from the communal areas, the inevitable increase in cost of adhering to these import regulations is likely to be passed on to producers in communal areas.
The ripple effects of these regulations are immense on the already fragile agricultural sector, which employs significant numbers of people, especially in the communal areas, the northern parts of the country included.
It does not need a genius to notice that there’s much more to these regulations than meets the eye. Especially the lobbying of the South African red meat producers to have these regulations legalised and implemented, which may have made whatever diplomatic initiatives at the end of the day meaningless, with producers in South Africa out to protect their interests. South African interests in the final analysis seem to have at the end of the day prevailed.
It is time that the ministry of agriculture and all its partners in this matter – the Meat Corporation of Namibia, the Meat Board of Namibia, Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU), Namibian National Farmers Union (NNFU), and Livestock Producers Association (LPO) – purposefully close ranks and come up with an emergency plan to cushion the effect of these regulations to avoid the collapse of the livestock industry in Namibia. One understands that the Meat Board has since 2013 been working on short-, medium- and long-term measures. This is perhaps the time that these measures become worth the paper they are written on.