Resilient livestock production in a changing world

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Resilient livestock production in a changing world was the theme of a recent seminar hosted by SA Stud Book in Bloemfontein recently. The seminar was presented in conjunction with the North-West University (NWU) Business School Agri Indaba.

Painting the bigger picture, four specialists from diverse disciplines looked at what resilience from their particular viewpoints entail, and what livestock producers had to do to become more resilient. The four specialists were Anneliese Burgess, co-editor of Vrye Weekblad, Prof Johan Willemse, independent agricultural economist, Prof Hannes Rautenbach, extraordinary professor at the University of Pretoria, and Dr Florence Nherera-Chokuda of the National Livestock Farmers Association – SA (NaLFA-SA), previously Nerpo.

Role of politics

Kicking off the proceedings, Annelise Burgess painted the political picture some five weeks ahead of the elections, pointing out that the ANC will in all likelihood remain the biggest party, but would probably have enter a coalition with other parties. “Are South African citizens resilient enough to survive whatever political dispensation after the election?” she asked. The answer, she said, is an emphatic ‘yes’.  

She pointed out that a silent revolution in the citizenry had been taking place for several years already. Wherever the state, be it at national, provincial of local level, neglected to perform its functions, communities have been stepping in to fill that void. She also stressed that ordinary citizens were far more constructive and relationships among members of communities far better than what we are led to believe.

Die nood leer bid (crises teach us to pray),” she concluded, saying that this is what enables communities to thrive. Creating solutions together force people to truly talk to one another and that, she said, is where true resilience comes from.

Read more about SA Stud Book’s recent Elite Awards here.

Eight guiding lights

Next up was Prof Johan Willemse, who provided eight resilience guidelines from an economic point of view. The first is to not expect support from the government. Even if they wanted to, there simply is no money.

His second pointer is to understand the various cycles in play in the livestock production industry. There are climatological cycles, such as the El Niño-La Niña cycle, the seven-year beef cycle, interest rate cycles, and the maize price cycle.

Thirdly, he pointed out, it is critical for producers to understand the domestic market. Even though there is very little growth in the domestic market, production is growing steadily. The only way for producers to grow their businesses is to grow the export market.

He also pointed out that in order to grow your business and gain a competitive edge, worldclass technology is required. Here he used the growth in the chicken and pork industries to illustrate the effect of a concerted effort to improve productivity and performance.

In this context, he said, traceability is not a novelty but a critical management tool to improve performance.

The next three guidelines he put forward were biosecurity, a shortened supply chain, and a co-ordinated research strategy to maximise expertise within the constraints of available funds. The last guideline, he concluded, was that the consumer is king. “Make sure you provide them with a good quality product.”

Climate resilience

There are various cycles at work that influence the climate, said Prof Hannes Rautenbach. He referred, among others, to the tilt of the earth which has a cycle of around 41 000 years, the rotation of earth’s axis with a cycle of 26 000 years, and the distance of earth from the sun with a cycle of around 100 000 years.

Given these and other cycles, it is very difficult to ascribe one event to the effects of a climate crisis, he said, although specific trends are slowly materialising that indicate a shift in weather patterns. One such trend is the increase of concentrated rainfall events over shorter periods, with longer periods of less rainfall.

Farmers, he said, can do very little to alleviate changing weather patterns. What they can do to become more resilient, however, is to observe, measure and record, and try to gather data over as long a period as possible. In addition, he said, one has to study weather outlooks and forecasts and analyse their possible impacts, and then incorporate alleviation strategies into decision-making.

Restructuring

A resilient livestock industry, Dr Florence Nherera-Chokuda said, needed to be inclusive of all livestock producers across the value chain. In order to achieve this production systems firstly need to align with international norms, national norms as well as red meat commodity needs and farmer food security needs. There are different production systems in South Africa, she said, of which the commercial sector takes up between 50 and 55% and communal production systems between 40 and 45%. The value chain in the livestock sector is very long, which affects the producer price.

There is a lack of logical design strategies to align vision and implementation pathways at a political as well as a producer organisational level, she said. So, to become sufficiently resilient there needs to be a restructured model for the developing sector.  

Following the individual presentations of the four specialists, well-known political commentator Dr Piet Croucamp led a panel discussion looking into what is required of South African producers to be resilient in facing all the challenges.

The consensus, ultimately, was that resilience lay in the old adage: ‘n Boer maak ‘n plan – a farmer makes a plan. – Izak Hofmeyr, Veeplaas

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