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Same cry, different tune

Two years ago Zimbabwe’s beef industry suffered a severe blow following the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease as it was going to lose $100 million in foreign currency through loss of sales to the European Community.

The ban has since been lifted but the country is once again likely to lose the similar amount of $100 million in foreign currency but this time it is because it cannot supply its beef quota of 9 100 tonnes.

Agricultural Marketing Authority leader, Roby Mupawose, says despite the 25 percent producer price increase in March farmers have not been selling enough cattle to the Cold Storage Commission (CSC). He did not disclose how much the country would be able to export but it appears to be very little as it had been estimated that the full quota would earn the country $125 million.

The CSC is losing cattle to private abattoirs who pay higher prices to farmers as they can resell the beef at higher prices. The CSC has to sell its meat at wholesale prices, including to butcheries owned by those with private abattoirs.

There is also growing concern about the dwindling commercial beef herd. Ben Norton of the Grasslands Society of Zimbabwe says the commercial breeding herd has declined from 1 200 000 cows to 670 000 in the past 10 years and could drop to 300 000 by the turn of the century.

He says the calving rate is about 56 per cent so with a CSC slaughter requirement of 500 00 a year there is no way this can be met unless communal farmers chip in.

Communal farmers have 4 million cattle but offtake is only 2 per cent.

Several programmes have been launched by the CSC to encourage communal farmers to sell their cattle but it appears they are failing to. The CSC has even launched a radio programme to explain to the communal farmers the advantages of effective cattle management which includes selling so-called surplus stock and methods of proper breeding which the CSC assures farmers will not lead to the depletion of their herds.

But with the CSC competing with private abattoirs, or their agents who are free to buy cattle from communal areas, the parastatal is facing an uphill struggle unless it is allowed to compete on the open market.

There is always the argument that the price of beef to the consumer will go up, but this is open to argument unless it is presumed that all those who buy beef from private abattoirs for resale are overcharging. If they are not -and they are running profitable businesses- then there should be no reason why the price of beef should go up when the CSC raises its wholesale price.

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