Zimbabwe could resume beef exports if cattle ranchers develop “commercial mindsets” and prioritise disease control, a senior Government official has said.
Harare last sold beef to major markets in August 2001 after its US$2 billion export quota was suspended on the back of a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak that saw the European Union invoke stringent animal disease control regulations.
Though that outbreak was neutralised, sporadic incidences of the disease have been reported across Zimbabwe over the years.
Authorities are strongly pushing for better animal husbandry, breeding and pastures to boost beef quality.
Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Deputy Minister (Livestock) Paddy Zhanda told The Sunday Mail, “We have a situation right now where demand for beef is very high in Europe, but we can’t export because of the foot and mouth disease.
“The disease is under control as of now, but the challenge is we still have sporadic reports. So, until a time when we can prove that we have effectively dealt with the disease, we will not export.
“The challenge really concerns everyone, farmers included, to make sure we contain the disease by way of a regular vaccination programme and avoiding unnecessary animal movement. We have to meet vaccination targets, which, I must say, do not come cheap.”
Deputy Minister Zhanda said Government was “worried about the lack of a business approach” among ranchers, “some of whom only keep cattle as a status symbol”.
“The biggest problem we have is that some farmers do not have commercial mindsets, yet the interest of Government is that wherever an agriculture activity is happening, let it be commercial. There is a misconception that we must increase our herds. My question is: Why do you need the numbers if you are not efficient?
“It is for that reason that the Command Livestock Programme will focus on improving intensity and production, and not numbers. The national herd stands at 5,5 million. So, assuming we have 1,5 million heifers and cows, and we get 1,3 million calves per year, who would say we are not producing enough meat for export or the domestic market?
“Nevertheless, we want these animals to be of good quality and the average carcass to rise to about 200kg per beast; not the obtaining 165 kg. Improving animal genetics, pastures and the calving rate, which currently stands at about 40 percent to 80 percent, will be at the centre of Command Livestock.”
Head of the EU Delegation to Zimbabwe Ambassador Philippe Van Damme confirmed the bloc’s huge appetite for Zimbabwe’s beef, but could not state when the export quota would be reactivated.
“I can’t say what the requirements are off-hand or how long it will take, but what I can tell you is it takes a couple of years from a country’s last FMD report to a stage when you can be considered,” he said.
“What should happen is Zimbabwe has to be satisfied that they have the disease under control then notify the regulators who will institute an international audit to ascertain the country’s suitability to supply FMD-free beef.
“Demand was there for Zimbabwe’s high quality beef before the ban, but, obviously, between then and now, the market has evolved. But, again, I think once Zimbabwe deals with the disease and gets the requisite clearance, it can enter the market and compete as was the case before.”