Beef Crisis
24 March 2024
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The Zimbabwean beef industry is currently facing a significant crisis due to a combination of a crippling drought and the aftermath of the land reform program, leading to a dramatic increase in cattle being sent to abattoirs. This surge in supply, much of it a desperate response by farmers to government advice to destock to mitigate losses, is severely impacting beef prices and exposing systemic vulnerabilities within the sector.

Mr. Neil Klein, the manager of Mbokodo Abattoir, voiced concerns over the unprecedented situation: “It is a nationwide thing that is going on as more farmers are destocking. Our average kill these days is about 150 cattle per day which is way above our normal kill.” This surge has forced some abattoirs to suspend slaughtering, unable to cope with the influx and abide by the stipulated 72 hours of animal stay before slaughter.

The destocking frenzy, while a short-term response to the dire effects of El Nino and the resultant drought, is a symptom of deeper issues within the beef industry, many of which can be traced back to the chaotic implementation of Zimbabwe’s land reform program. This initiative, while aimed at rectifying colonial land ownership imbalances, has been critiqued for disrupting the commercial farming sector, including beef production, which has not fully recovered.

Farmers, like Mr. Godfrey Hunda from Gokwe, illustrate the dire choices being made: “Out of a herd of 12 cattle, I came with four cattle so that I can sell them and be able to get money to buy stockfeed for the remainder.” These decisions, driven by survival, highlight the precarious position of farmers who are not only battling a harsh climate but also grappling with the economic ramifications of past policies.

The impact on beef prices is palpable. Mr. Klein highlighted the dramatic shift in beef producer prices, noting a significant decrease from previous rates. However, he anticipates a sharp reversal in the coming months: “You will find out that in a few months’ time when there will be a shortage, those prices could either double up. Prices have gone down because of the number of cattle being slaughtered currently.”

This scenario is further complicated by the recent implementation of value-added tax (VAT) on meat products and livestock, as explained by Mr. Jordy Young, general manager of MC Meats Abattoir in Masvingo. “This year the implementation of VAT on meat products and livestock has compounded the problem as it has made products unaffordable for a larger sector of the market,” Mr. Young stated, emphasizing the cascading effects of policy decisions on the industry.

The situation is dire for farmers, with many feeling exploited by middlemen in a market flooded with beef. “Worse-off middlemen are ripping off farmers and taking our animals for as low as $150,” lamented Mr. Hunda, underscoring the vulnerability of farmers in the current economic landscape.

In summary, the Zimbabwean beef industry’s current predicament is multifaceted, rooted in climatic challenges, historical land policies, and recent economic measures. The industry’s resilience is being tested as it navigates these compounded issues, with significant implications for farmers, abattoirs, and the broader economy. The unfolding scenario is a stark reminder of the delicate balance between policy, environmental stewardship, and economic sustainability in the agricultural sector.