Crunch Time for Livestock Industry

The livestock industry has been experiencing unparalleled domestic upheaval since the unilateral introduction of new health restrictions by South Africa for livestock imports from here a month ago.

Now the future of the industry and its continued viability hangs in the balance. At a do-or-die meeting today the Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry John Mutorwa will meet all stakeholders and role-players in the industry to try and find a way out of the quagmire of the worst ever livestock export crisis to hit the country in years. What everyone agrees on is that the industry is in dire need of a lifeline from South Africa to secure its future and long-term viability.

Namibia’s livestock industry rakes in some N$7 billion annually from the export of about 160 000 weaners to South Africa, as well as 100 000 sheep and about 240 000 goats. Moreover, the sector sustains the livelihood of some 70 percent of the Namibian population. The crisis was sparked by the imposition of new animal health requirements, which became effective May 1 and that have roundly been described as ‘impossible’ and which have virtually forced local producers to their knees. The South Africans reneged three times on previous promises to end the crisis, and last weekend made a new promise by proposing a ‘friendly solution’ to be reached following key talks slated for June 10. Namibian livestock producers have since then expressed anger, frustration and disappointment over the apparent stalling by the South African authorities.

The near total collapse of livestock exports to South Africa will be the main focus of discussions today and it is evident to everyone involved that unless a solution is found in the next few days it would be tantamount to sounding the death knell for the once flourishing and lucrative sector. A glimmer of hope emerged last Sunday when the Director General of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of South Africa Professor Edith Vries informed her counterpart in Namibia, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry Joseph Iita in a letter that “a friendly solution” will soon be found for the problem. Iita is part of a joint technical committee that was established on May 9 to address the concerns of Namibian producers, and despite his relentless efforts to discuss the Standard Operational Procedures (SOP’s) with his South African counterparts before the initial deadline of May 31, South Africa now says this will only be possible on June 10. Iita told New Era that apart from the SOPs, the bilateral committee must also come up with suggestions on how the implementation of the new set of animal health requirements can be separated so that it they are only applicable to animals meant for breeding purposes.

“Because the current requirements are also applicable to animals going to feedlots and abattoirs in South Africa, no exports can take place and this has a terrible effect on Namibian producers,” Iita stressed. Since May 1, hardly any weaners or sheep have left the country, while only about 1 900 live goats were exported to KwaZulu-Natal. Goat exports to South Africa ensure an income of about N$16.8 million, while live sheep exports amount to about N$8.5 million per annum for Namibian producers. Communal famers make up for about 60 percent of the total exports and are the hardest hit by the situation as prices for their goats have dropped by some 40 percent and the price for weaners by more than N$5 pkg. Iita yesterday reiterated the need for urgent new discussions at the highest level after the deadline of May 31 came and went without an agreement and no immediate sign of relief in sight for Namibia’s struggling livestock producers. According to the chairperson of the Namibian Livestock Producers Organisation (LPO), Mecki Schneider, Namibia’s some 7 000 commercial and almost 200 000 communal farmers have expressed great disappointment about the lack of progress being made after the establishment of the joint technical committee between the two countries. “But there is new hope now with a guarantee from their side that fresh rounds of discussions will take place within the next few days,” Iita reiterated.

Source : New Era