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In the last article in our series on communal livestock farming and the protocols and lessons associated with it, we take a closer look at the challenges relating to marketing, one of many obstacles that communal farmers have to overcome.
Economies of scale in communal livestock farming
Commercial farming is profitable, despite its low margins, because it can achieve volumes of production that reduce the fixed costs. Producing enough calves to fill a large truck is normal for commercial farms, but in communal areas where there is no fixed calving season, we find that fewer calves are weaned every month. Agents, feedlots and other buyers are willing to pay more for an even-sized batch of 500 lambs than for ten or 20 lambs which can hardly fill a bakkie and trailer.
Consumer demands relating to safe, clean and ethically produced animal products will increase once export markets expand. Commercial producers are able to meet the requirements of the proposed Livestock Identification and Traceability System (LITS) and therefore benefit from certification processes that will become more common.
The principle of ‘meat safety starts on the farm’ will increasingly exclude those communal farmers who cannot meet the standards set in good practice documentation. In addition, commodity organisations have codes in place which set out the requirements for production, and there is growing pressure on farmers to meet these requirements (Table 1).
The lack of resources in communal areas forces farmers to use minimal feed and remedies during the production period. The downside is that it hampers production; on the plus side, animals are produced more naturally.
Fewer inputs are required when small flocks or herds are observed and handled daily, and record-keeping can increase the marketing value of the more naturally produced products. It is therefore evident that the future of marketing the products produced by communal farmers will be enhanced if LITS can be introduced and applied at a high level.
A one-stop service in communal livestock farming
We have, for over a decade, been involved in providing livestock health and advisory services to communal, township and emerging farmers. The main problem we have noticed is a lack of leadership. In many cases, the structure of community committees and farmers’ associations are not very efficient, mostly because of a lack of technical skills.
Implementing a unified herd/flock health and production plan is extremely challenging since farmers are exposed to divergent recommendations and advice from livestock agents, stock remedy salespeople, government extension officers, veterinarians, fellow farmers, commodity organisations, and commercial producers.
The ideal situation would be for these role-players to get together and design a protocol which can be implemented by a single advisor who is involved in the daily farm activities, right through to the payment of the nett income into the farmer’s bank account. Ideally this should be a state-owned entity with links to research and marketing role-players.
The mutton highway
One such model is applied in Brazil. A service provider from a government agency visits village farmers monthly to implement the health and production plan. They travel in well-equipped SUVs and provide small packs of vaccines, remedies, licks, genetics (artificial insemination), and advice on general matters.
These inputs are recorded, and once the products have been marketed, the costs are recovered. This involves the service provider inspecting the lambs for market readiness. If any lambs are ready, they are loaded and transported to a local abattoir which has its own feedlot and pastures. The animals are slaughtered and, in some instances, exported to Europe as certified produce of that specific area or village – its origin can even be indicated on a restaurant menu.
The income generated from the sale of meat is handled by the government agency and after having deducted the inputs, the balance is paid into the farmer’s account and a share of it into the wife’s account. The banking service is heavily subsidised; this process is called ‘the highway of mutton’.
In South Africa such a process could also involve local food retailers, which could supply some seed capital to pay for inputs – these inputs could then be recycled once the produce is ready to be marketed through a branch. The origin of the product can form part of the branding; for example, stating where it was produced (in a specific village or community).
Retailers can even lend their support by allocating shelf space as a form of service to the community, which will support and assist in improving the sustainability of deep rural communities. Retailers can also get involved in communal schools and community facilities.
Until some decades ago, most small towns had a marketplace. Today, these activities take place on sidewalks and there are rising concerns regarding food safety. Many older village and township farmers have expressed the need for a place where they can sell their lambs, calves and crops in a safe, supervised environment which will safeguard them against exploitation and non-payment of goods.
Some towns in Brazil have marketplaces with bank-installed outlets for card machines which provide free services. There is security, and farmers’ wives can sell their handcrafted items in small tourist shops. In South Africa, the revival of the tradition of a monthly auction could ensure that animals enter the formal value chain with all the LITS and biosecurity requirements in place.
Animals in communal areas and on small-scale and township farms make up a very large portion of South Africa’s livestock population. Unfortunately, most of these animals do not reproduce well nor have a good survival rate. However, it is possible to give food security a boost through increased farmer knowledge, the provision of efficient services and sound partnerships. If this fails, livestock farmers will increasingly be excluded while health and ethical requirements, as well as traceability demands surge. – Dr Johan van Rooyen, Steynsburg Animal Hospital
For more information, contact Dr Johan van Rooyen on 082 463 3087,
Wandile Khave on 066 303 6271 (WhatsApp) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.