Livestock health is important for inclusive growth in South Africa’s agriculture sector says Agricultural Business Chamber. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng.

LIVESTOCK health is key to inclusive growth in South Africa’s agriculture sector and drastic action is required of the government to curb diseases, the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) has said.

The chamber’s chief economist Wandile Sihlobo says that its value directly accounts for roughly half of the agriculture gross value added, an estimated 48 percent, and it also adds value through its interlinkages to the grains and oilseeds sector.

“The livestock sector utilises about 53 percent of the 11.5 million tonnes of domestically consumed maize per year in South Africa. The industry also accounts for a significant consumption share in soybeans, sunflower seed, sorghum and wheat. Hence, the vibrant success and growth of the livestock subsector is also beneficial to these commodities and other value chain businesses,” Sihlobo said.

The organisation has said the livestock sector’s potential to improve the inclusion of black farmers into commercially viable farming entities should not be understated.

Sihlobo says that industry surveys conservatively estimate that black farmers are responsible for 34 percent of the South African commercial beef production, 13 percent of mohair, and 11 percent of wool.

He says animals represent a major source of both wealth and livelihoods for many South Africans in the traditional areas, as well as the peri-urban agricultural sector. According to him, the health, condition and productivity of these animals could therefore be critical in promoting inclusive economic growth and improved well-being for many poor families.

Agbiz has said policymakers and industry focus should be on accelerating this subsector’s growth comprehensively.

However, there are persistent challenges that threaten progress.

“One such challenge is the deterioration of animal biosecurity measures, which we observe through frequent outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease and African swine fever in the case of piggery, amongst other diseases,” he said.

Last week, the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development confirmed a case of foot-and-mouth disease on a commercial stud farm in North West. Additionally, there was another case detected in Collins Chabane municipality in Limpopo. These were additional cases to the foot-and-mouth outbreak in KwaZulu-Natal.

Sihlobo says the challenge with these disease detections is they have become a frequent occurrence. This is in addition to various cases reported in the poultry industry and piggery.

Agbiz says that the economic cost of the disease outbreaks is related to limitations on trade domestically in the affected regions, and most importantly South Africa’s inability to export red meat products to high-value markets in the European Union, United Kingdom, and the United States.

Sihlobo has said this reality brought huge financial losses to the sector, but also inhibits the growth of this subsector – first for the commercial and export-orientated farmers, but then also the small livestock keepers who can potentially benefit from the surge in demand through growth in exports.

Export growth is an important tool of demand-pull growth for black farmers eager to commercialise and expand their farming operations.

Some have partnered with established livestock farming entities in cattle, sheep and piggery industries. If the export markets open up and there is a surge in demand for South African livestock products, then the new entrant black farmers also benefit, Sihlobo has said.

Agbiz has said that these disease outbreaks result from poor disease monitoring, coordination and limited and/or delayed actions by government officials.

In 2019, China temporarily banned South Africa’s wool imports following the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Limpopo. China is an important market for the South African wool industry and accounts for an average of 71 percent of South Africa’s wool exports in value.

The ban for several months saw South Africa’s wool exports decline by 24 percent year-on-year to US$302 million in 2019. The live animal trade with the neighbouring countries and red meat exports also faced various limitations for months.

Sihlobo has said recent outbreaks can lead again to temporary bans of some South African livestock product exports by various nations.

“The common understanding is that unless drastic action is taken by the government, South Africa will remain a pariah in the international meat trade environment for at least the next five years. Despite this reality, we have not yet observed dramatic measures to turn this sad reality around,” he said.

Agbiz says that it is therefore, of the utmost importance that government and farmer associations prioritise improving South Africa’s biosecurity systems. It says that there needs to be an urgent plan of action to address a range of scientific challenges such as the failures in state-owned animal vaccine manufacturing entities like Onderstepoort Biological Products (OBP).

“Improved disease monitoring and improved functioning of dip tanks in the rural areas to service the livestock of small-scale farmers are urgently needed. There also needs to be a better and more rapid response to outbreaks of all kinds between industry and government departments (national and provincial),” Sihlobo said.

The minister has appointed a task team last year to unpack the systemic problems in South Africa’s animal biosecurity system. The task team is composed of Dr Shadrack Moepuli, Prof Johann Kirsten, Dr Gideon Bruckner and Dr Kgabi Mogojane.

Agbiz says that this esteemed task team has completed a report on their investigation, and hopefully its recommendations will be implemented swiftly.

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