Beef industry on verge of extinction


Augustine Mukaro

ZIMBABWE’S commercial beef herd is on the verge of extinction as a result of the country’s political upheavals.



Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>The commercial herd, bred over a period of 110 years, tumbled by over 90% since the onset of the chaotic land reform programme in 2000. The herd now stands at an estimated 120 000, down from 1,4 million recorded three years ago.


The Cattle Producers Association (CPA) said by July last year only 210 000 beef cattle survived.


“At the last count there were fewer than 125 000 breeding cows but the number will be lower by now,” the CPA said. “The entire national herd is on the road to extinction and the whole gene pool is being wiped out.”


The CPA is an affiliate of the Commercial Farmers Union.The looming disappearance of one of Zimbabwe’s most valuable assets is another dramatic illustration of the meltdown of the country’s economy. Wildlife has already been decimated by the occupation of conservancies and national parks.


Justice for Agriculture spokesman Ben Freeth said the commercial breeding herd fell by over 90% over the past three years.


“The commercial breeding herd now stands at 120 000 cows, down from 1,4 million recorded in 2000,” Freeth said.


Freeth said farm invasions had made it impossible for producers to meet even the local market.


“Producers can hardly meet the local market, worse still the exports,” he said.


“It would need up to at least two decades under very good beef-producing conditions for Zimbabwe to return to where the country was before the land invasions.


“The beef industry needs the longest period for recovery compared to any other agricultural sector,” he said.


Zimbabwe used to export a 9 100-tonne quota to the European Union until the onset of land invasions and the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease which resulted in exports being closed. Beef exports to the EU, South Africa and other regional markets used to earn Zimbabwe in excess of US$50 million a year.


Freeth said the problem had been exacerbated by rampant stock theft caused by the breakdown of the rule of law.


He said the commercial farming sector used to maintain a good livestock tagging system and slaughtered animals could easily be traced. Very few of these systems are still in existence, he said.


“There is no room for tracing animals under the prevailing chaotic situation in the agricultural sector,” Freeth said. “Rampant livestock theft over the past three years seems to be flooding meat outlets. Stolen animals are not taken to registered abattoirs but find their way into the market through unethical butcheries.”


Freeth said some local consumers were not worried about the origin of the beef but only the price it is being sold at thereby promoting backyard beef trade and theft.