15 January 2019

South Africa: FMD Outbreak in South Africa Poses Namibia With Daunting Task

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Windhoek — The suspension of import and in-transit movement of cloven-hoofed animals or their products from South Africa due to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in that country will hit Namibia's already struggling dairy industry hard, while significant strain on the beef, pork and mutton markets cannot be ruled out.

Chairperson of the Livestock Producers Organisation (LPO), Piet Gouws, says he is optimistic that the domestic red meat demand will be met by local producers but red flags have shot up for the dairy and pork industries. Namibia only produces some 50 percent of pork consumption and about 70 percent of its milk consumption. All cheese and butter for local consumption is imported from SA. "It is possible that Namibia is going to experience a huge shortage of these dairy products in the short term. Dairy products are available from the European Union but it will come at a massive cost," he notes. Gouws says meat for the domestic market mainly comes from grade B & C class abattoirs in Namibia while some retailers like Fruit & Veg import meat from SA.

While Gouws is optimistic that local producers of red meat will be able to meet the demand, he is concerned about the small numbers of animals available for slaughter due to erratic rains and drought. "To add insult to injury, animals are only ready to be slaughtered by April and the beginning of May. We can therefore expect a 'not freely available' status of quality red meat and prices can increase moderately. Consumers' cash flow will be of great importance as meat prices will probably spike," he observes.

Gouws stresses that it is vitally important for Namibia to protect its FMD-free status as an exporter of meat to Norway and the European Union. "Namibia's animal health status with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) is worth gold and must be protected at all costs. All exports will immediately cease in the case of such an outbreak in Namibia, with disastrous results.

"The immediate challenges faced by Namibian farmers will be the delay in the import of genetic material for stud breeders and animals and material that will have to be kept on the borders at great cost until the ban is lifted. The other effect that consumers will notice is a shortage of certain products at retailers but that will have a positive effect on locally manufactured and processed products," he explains. Gouws is confident that it won't affect weaner exports or prices. "As long as the export of our weaners to SA feeding lots is not restricted, we should be fine. But low and erratic rainfall and therefore much reduced maize planting will result in increased maize prices which could have a limited impact on our weaner prices and marketing. It's too early. Time will tell," he says.

According to Roelie Venter, executive manager of the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU), the import ban will most severely hit the dairy industry as Namibia does not produce any butter or cheese products. According to the Meat Board of Namibia, more than 3 800 tons of beef, mutton and pork were imported from January to November 2018 (not only from South Africa) and thus all meat consumed in Namibia therefore needs to be sourced from local Namibian abattoirs or other international markets, while the import ban from South Africa is in place.

Farmers already started to reduce animal numbers in 2018 to reduce the pressure on rangelands that may not be able to supplement the market gap.

"Due to drought conditions in 2018, as well as the fact that rain received so far in the current rainy season was limited to a few places, the condition of most livestock is currently not good and therefore cannot be marketed," Venter was quoted as saying.

Drought and fodder expert Dr Axel Rothauge advises that in the event that livestock is currently in good condition, farmers should critically evaluate their current fodder availability, and rather decide to market their marketable livestock earlier than later. Namibia imported live animals to the tune of some N$17 million in 2017. However, these animals were mostly for breeding rather than slaughtering purposes and hence the import ban should not have an economic impact. According to Gouws, some Namibian farmers who are severely impacted by the drought might be able to receive relief in improved prices for their livestock.

He says the drought situation in Namibia is nearing catastrophic proportions for a large number of farmers and opines that the equally dire drought situation in South Africa, combined with the ban on movement of animals, will have a catastrophic effect on agricultural production in that country if the export ban continues for an extended period.

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