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Botswana can help to reverse beef rush

Export of cattle on the hoof has increased by 150% from January to September 2013 compared to the same period last year. Up to September this year, 222,206 live cattle were exported to South Africa and Angola while Meatco slaughtered only 98,392 cattle, communal areas included. Other local abattoirs and butcheries slaughtered 34,286 cattle. Of all the cattle sent to market, 63% was exported.
According to Meatco’s Executive for Policy Innovation, Stakeholder Relations and Corporate Affairs, Vehaka Tjimune, this year’s poor grazing conditions and the cattle markets beyond our borders are the main reasons for the high export numbers. “Due to the drought, the veldt conditions of many farmers have deteriorated tremendously. The increase in live exports during this period was an effect of many farmers that went into a state of panic, because of the poor veldt conditions that their herd had to adapt to,” Vehaka said.

While grazing remains critical, many farmers choose to market their cattle as quickly as possible before the quality of their animals deteriorate. As a consequence, the Namibian market was flooded with live cattle and meat and this caused prices to decrease in Namibia and in South Africa, except in the supermarkets.
The consequences of cattle that leave Namibia will affect the whole cattle and slaughter industry for the next three years. Vehaka forecasts that more than 280,000 cattle will have left the country on the hoof by the end of 2013. “These exports are a combination of weaners, cows and slaughter oxen. Namibian farmers have exported too many cattle and kept too few cattle for restocking and herd building,” said Vehaka.
Vehaka argues that store oxen which would have been slaughtered only next year, were exported to such an extent that there will be very few slaughter oxen for 2014. The weaners exported this year would have been the stores for 2014, which would have supplied the slaughter stock of 2015.  This means that low numbers of slaughter stock will continue through 2015. The following year, 2016, will also be a challenge for the cattle industry as a large number of cows that should have calved next year, have left the country on the hoof. This means fewer calves in 2014, with a knock-on effect to the rest of the local cattle industry resulting in reduced availability of slaughter stock in 2016 as well.
In the past, after droughts, Namibian farmers were allowed to import cows from South Africa, for herd building. As a result of South Africa’s current Foot and Mouth status, borders are closed for imports. Thus, farmers have to build their herd with the cows that they currently have in stock.
At the moment, Botswana is an alternative country for cattle imports according to Vehaka. In some areas of Botswana the health status is on par with the health status of Namibia south of the Veterinary Cordon Fence. Under normal circumstances Botswana has a closed border policy where no cattle are allowed to leave the country, but for the past year they have been struggling to market their cattle. Botswana was closed down for European Union (EU) exports a few years back which caused prices to decline and subsequently caused farmers not to market their cattle. To make things worse, the country is now also experiencing a drought. Thus, authorities were forced to open the borders for cattle exports. As from August 2013 until December 2013, the borders of Botswana are open for live cattle exports.  However, the Namibian border is closed for the import of animals from Botswana at the moment.
“Currently, Botswana is the only African country that can assist Namibia with herd building. Once South Africa’s health status is cleared they will also be able to assist us. These countries are the only African countries which have the same quality standards as Namibia. They are our only hope to herd building for the next three years,” Vehaka said.

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