Zambia could grow its capacity to meet strong demand for sheep and goats from the Saudi Arabian market, according to the chairman of the Small Livestock Association of Zambia, Trust Chasha. Zambian small stock farmers had the numbers to meet export requirements of more than a million animals a month, said Chasha in a report in Zambia’s Daily Nation.
In recent consultations, Zambian livestock farmers met with government and Saudi officials in Lusaka, where Magdi Abdazza, Saudi embassy representative, said the export market for sheep and goats had the potential to go beyond the borders of the Kingdom to include the entire Gulf region.
The initial suggested export price for a 25kg ram was ZMW2 000 (US$200). Local prices are between ZMW400 and ZMW800 (US$40 to US$80).
“Our only concern is that the sheep and goats must be disease-free and weigh between 25kg and 40kg,” Abdazza said.
The Kingdom is keen to stimulate small stock production in Zambia and other African countries and the Saudi proposals present a lucrative opportunity for small stock owners to gear their flocks up, on the back of good trade prospects.
Economic injection into livestock sector
Minister of Fisheries and Livestock, Michael Katambo, said the Saudi trade offer could boost the economy, increase the GDP significantly and unlock value for small stock farmers currently operating at subsistence levels.
“As government, we are ready to provide policy guidance and technical support, and work in close partnership with all stakeholders to effectively implement the commercialisation of sheep and goat production to meet [the demands of] the Saudi export market and beyond,” said Katambo.
The production and supply of sheep and goats for export to Saudi Arabia was first mooted at bilateral consultations between the Zambian government and the Kingdom, against a background of expected high population growth rates in Arab countries. Their increasingly affluent, urban society is driving demand for more animal products and the consumption of goat meat is expected to rise by 104% in the next decade. The escalation in appetite for goat meat is predicted to virtually double in oil-rich countries in the 30 years between 2000 and 2030 according to a 2014 World Bank, FAO and IFAD (International fund for Agricultural Development) report.
Small stock producers optimistic but cautious
Zambian small-scale sheep and goat producers were aware of the enormity of the task ahead as commercial production in the sector was almost non-existent. The potential for powerful middlemen to ‘hijack’ the sector was a cause for concern among some producers. This concern was highlighted after one operation offered to buy all the goats from farmers, and shoulder the risk of making sure the animals got to the Saudi markets.
Small stock farmers would have to enter a commercial phase while protecting and conserving natural resources like soil, water and forests, and guarding against the spread of disease.
It was a little disquieting that less than 10% of the 2017 budget had been allocated to livestock development, despite its major contribution to the agricultural economy.
Dr David Shimulenge, permanent secretary to the ministry, was quick to point out that government intended to collaborate with stakeholders to meet challenges and ensure that benefits from the export project went to producers who made the trade possible.
“President Lungu wants this initiative to benefit vulnerable urban and rural populations in line with the administration’s pro-poor outlook. It is for this reason that we will put in place measures to protect the smallest producer and everyone involved,” Shimulenge said.
Pricing and construction of necessary infrastructure, such as feedlots and quarantine holding facilities, were under consideration; and a stronger disease warning and diagnostic system was also in the planning phase.
Technology and infrastructure improvements
Ministry vet, Dr Sinkala, said small stock would be AI (artificially inseminated) to accelerate population growth and enhance breed standardisation.
“We have a local breed that the Saudis want,” he said. Accelerating production, pricing, traceability, standardisation, disease diagnosis, logistics and effective communication were identified as major issues that needed to be addressed for small-scale sheep and goat producers to break into the markets of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region.
The current goat population is 4.3 million and there are 131,000 sheep countrywide. This makes it difficult for Zambia to ensure a continuous supply of a million goats per annum, and handle the seasonal demand for sheep during religious ceremonies. But some small stock farmers were optimistic that production could be dramatically increased if breeding centres were set up in Zambia’s 10 provinces.
“We can set up breeding centres like the one in Sinazongwe, Southern Province, in the 10 provinces and replicate that at district levels,” said Fred Simukoko, a goat farmer from Lusaka.
“These centres will also make it possible to access extension services, to have diseases diagnosed and to prepare animals for export,” he said.
Small-scale farmers want transparent systems with no middlemen.
Producers agreed that the pricing needed to be place in a context where the associated costs were clearly understood.
Northern Province goat farmer Veronica Pepala said government should develop supportive tax incentives and create a suitable policy environment.
“We should resist the temptation to think the price offered by the Saudis is attractive before we understand the associated costs of production all the way to the market,” said Pepala. She wanted to know how government would protect the small, heavily invested producer from exploitation by powerful groups.
“We don’t want to end up like the maize marketing industry where powerful middlemen exploit the poor farmers because of weaknesses in the current marketing system,” said Langa Phiri, a goat farmer from Chipata, Eastern Province.
Farmer Yamekani Zulu advocated for a strong transparent and bureaucracy-free one-stop shop mechanism to curb marketing costs and improve accountability.
Ministry official, Dr Mwenya, observed that leveraging the existing one-stop window Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA), piloting at some of the border posts, would be a useful way of addressing concerns costs, efficiency and transparency.
Mwenya said the forecast for the small livestock sector was bright given the demand, and that small-scale small stock producers should intensify production to meet this demand.