Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

26 May 2013

Tanzania: Ethical, Ecological and Health Aspects of Pastoral Meat

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Tanzania is a major livestock producing nation. In fact, Tanzania is the third largest cattle producer in Africa.

Worldwide Tanzania is fifteenth in number of cattle (after India, Brazil, China, United States, Argentina, Ethiopia, Sudan, Mexico, Australia, Russia, Columbia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and France).

The Tanzania government officially estimates that Tanzanians live amidst more than 18.5 million cattle and 16.7 million shoats (that is, 13.1 million goats and 3.6 million sheep).

The sector is growing at almost 3per cent every year. Congratulations livestock sector! According to Njombe and Msanga's very interesting paper titled Livestock and Dairy Industry Development in Tanzania, "more than 90per cent of the livestock population in the country is of indigenous types, kept in the traditional sector, having a characteristically low productivity yet well adapted to the existing harsh environment including resistance to diseases."

Tanzania has been certified Rinderpest free since 2006. Nice job livestock sector! Most of these livestock are owned by small holders. Njombe and Msanga state that about 80 per cent of the cattle (mostly short-horned Zebu and Ankole) are kept in the agropastoral system, while 14 per cent are in the pastoral system.

The remaining constitute beef breeds and their crosses which come from commercial ranches and the dairy herd. This means that 94 per cent of the cattle in Tanzania are owned by families - meaning, the wealth of the cattle is held in many hands. This is a clear success story.

Yet sometimes it seems people tend to discount the industry because it "only" accounts for about 6 per cent of total gross domestic product (GDP). As was pointed out in the report, much of the value of the livestock sector does not appear when calculating the GDP.

The livestock sector plays many important roles. It contributes heavily to food security through supplying the nation with high quality meat, milk and eggs. It acts as a source of cash income and employment. It is an inflation free store of value. It provides manure and draught animal power thus contributing to sustainable agriculture.

Most of the meat eaten incountry is produced here; thus it protects the balance of trade. The health of the people and in fact, the stability of the nation to a large extent depend on the livestock sector. Most of the beef and milk produced in Tanzania is consumed in-country.

The major export earner is hides. The estimated amount of available hides is 2.8 million cowhides, 3.8 million goat skins, and 1 million sheep skins. About 60 per cent of those are collected and exported.

For instance in the year 2006 a total of 1.98 million cowhides, 1.52 million goat skins and 1.22 million sheep skins were collected. Of these about 1.7 million cow hides, 1.05 million goat skins and 0.928 million sheep skins were exported, 80 per cent being in raw form and 20 per cent in semi processed form.

It is noted in the report that there is room for improvement in collecting more of the available skins, and processing more of them in-country. People in Tanzania generally like to eat meat. And so we should.

These cattle have not been fed hormones, loaded with antibiotics and genetically modified corn to make them grow big and fatty as is common in North America and South Africa. The meat resulting from animals getting little or no exercise, ingesting antibiotics and GMOs is soft, "tender", mushy, and endangers human health.

By comparison Tanzanian meat is clean and lean; it satisfies in smaller amounts. Once people have eaten Tanzanian meat, they do not yearn for the big slabs of soft meat that are so common in North America and South Africa.

Likewise the livestock in Tanzania are for the most part not raised in the torture and cruelty of big factory farms. Especially perhaps the pastoralists' - where the cattle move through pesticide free areas feeding on wild grasses, rubbing their backs on acacia trees, passing through woodlands - not harming the wildlife.

A natural life that looks funny if you are strong. It is probably just a matter of a few moments - or maybe a few months, before the world becomes alert to the superior physical, ecological, and ethical qualities of Tanzanian meat.

Meat from pastoralists' animals could easily become a specialty high-class product - and may already be. I cannot find current statistics about meat exports. The closest example I have found is for the years 2005 to 2006.

In 2005 Kuwait, Oman, and United Arab Emirates (who can afford to buy from anywhere in the world), imported 6.8 tonnes of meat (goat, sheep and cattle) from Tanzania; the very next year they bought 92 tonnes.

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