Livestock Exports Still in Limbo – June 10 May Offer Hope

A shimmer of hope emerged yesterday for the limping multi-billion dollar Namibian livestock industry on which some 70 percent of the 2.2 million inhabitants depend for their livelihood, when South Africa set June 10 as the date for high-level discussions between the two countries to find an amicable solution for the situation created by stringent new animal health requirements by South Africa for exports to that country.

After an initial communication breakdown over the past two weeks Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry Joseph Iita yesterday confirmed that a joint committee between Namibia and South Africa will meet with stakeholders on June 10, while the Ministry of Trade and Industry has requested additional meetings starting June 6 to hopefully bring to an end the suffering of Namibian producers since the new requirements came into effect on May 1. Namibia’s lucrative weaner export industry of some 160 000 weaners annually, as well as sheep exports have been put on hold, while only about 1 900 live goats were exported to KwaZulu-Natal in May due to the new requirements. Namibia exports some 240 000 goats annually to South Africa, which ensures an income of about N$16.8 million, while its live sheep exports amount to about N$8.5 million per year.

Communal famers are responsible for about 60 percent of total exports and are the hardest hit by the situation, as prices for their goats plummeted by some 40 percent already, while no exports of weaners or sheep are possible with the new set of rules in place, robbing them of their only income. Yesterday Iita confirmed the need for urgent new discussions at the highest level after the deadline of May 31 came and went with no immediate sign of relief in sight for Namibia’s struggling livestock producers.

“I was initially very disappointed with the South African authorities, who were responsible for the breakdown in communication regarding this live-threatening situation.

A technical committee between the two countries was established weeks ago, and despite the Namibian side pushing for an amicable solution, we have experienced a communication breakdown over the past week or two.

There is no scientific explanation for the harsh new animal health requirements implemented by South Africa, nor was there an explanation for the silence from their side. But now there is new hope with a guarantee from their side that fresh rounds of discussions will take place within the next few days.

His sentiments are shared with the chairperson of the Namibian Livestock Producers Organisation (LPO) Mecki Schneider who says Namibia’s estimated 7 000 commercial and almost 200 000 communal farmers have expressed great disappointment over the lack of progress being made after the establishment of the joint technical committee between the two countries.

“Nobody understands the modus operandi of South Africa, but what we do know is that their economy is not delivering on promises and I suspect they are slitting the throats of Namibian export producers in an effort to stimulate the buying power of their consumers and promote their own products.

Fact of the matter is South Africa will always remain an importer of livestock to feed their booming population. I suppose they can import from other countries, but it remains a mystery why they are now punishing Namibian producers who enjoy one of the best animal health statuses in Africa and indeed the world,” he says. Schneider confirmed he would travel from his farm to Windhoek today for new discussions with government officials on behalf of the LPO and other role players. By yesterday stakeholders and role players New Era spoke to agreed that the local livestock industry will eventually have to adapt and adhere to the stringent animal health requirements implemented by the South African authorities if the neighbouring country refuses to restore the status quo to what it was before May 1 this year.

Namibian auctioneers also agree that the only way out of the predicament is for Namibian producers to be granted an interim period to adjust and adhere to the new set of animal health rules if the export industry and related industries are to survive.

If no relief is forthcoming from the discussions of the joint committee, livestock agents and producers will have no choice but to comply with the new requirements, since very few other options are available.

Piet Coetzee, owner of Namboer Auctioneers, says it is a pity that the Red Meat Producers Organisation of South Africa (RPO) succeeded in having the new requirements implemented overnight, while their own Abattoir and Feedlot Associations are threatening an urgent court application to have the legality of the decision challenged. Coetzee says the implications of the new requirements go much further than the devastating effect it has had on communal, emerging and commercial farmers and also affects all the other industries like transporters and auctioneers that depend on the livestock export business with South Africa. Chris Steenkamp of Windhoek Livestock Auctioneers (WLA) agrees, saying if the requirements are implemented permanently, auctioneers, agents and all other livestock export related industries would suffer just as much as producers. “WLA has lost some two-thirds of its usual business since the implementation of the new rules and we witness the suffering of especially communal farmers every day in the absence of auctions in their communities.

This robs them of their daily bread and nobody, including us can go on like this for an extended period without any certainty from the authorities about their future.

The situation is grave and the next step for auctioneers and other industry suppliers will be to scale down and get rid of personnel, which will compound the already high unemployment situation in Namibia. Nobody wants to go there, but in light of the substantial drop in prices across the board, we will be forced to do so and to the detriment of our producers,” he warned.

Paul Strydom, general manager of the Meat Board, also says the situation is dire and warns that Namibia will soon run out of space for all the animals now stuck on home soil, because of the new rules.

Meanwhile, the South African Feedlot Association and the Abattoir Association confirmed that they are seeking legal aice on the matter, since South African feedlots and abattoirs are also suffering losses without weaners from Namibia.

The joint committee was established following a high-profile meeting in Pretoria between Iita, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Dr Malan Lindeque, and the director general of the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries in South Africa, Prof Edith Vries recently.

Source : New Era