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April 10, 2008

Southern African veterinary experts meet to discuss beef industry

Southern African veterinary experts are among 60 other specialists in that field including representatives from the African Union and South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and United Kingdom governments who began meeting in Pretoria, South Africa recently to exchange notes on the future of the beef industry.

The workshop comes at a time when Zimbabwe is trying to revive its national herd, Botswana is battling to control a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak and a debate is raging in Namibia over the continued existence of the so-called red veterinary line -- a colonial legacy which critics say cuts rural beef producers out of lucrative markets.

Officials from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), FAO, Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), national farming unions, businesses and others were also attending the high-level workshop.

Top on the agenda was the transboundary animal disease and market access with emphasis on future options for the beef industry in southern Africa.

Policymakers in southern Africa -- and beyond -- are dealing with some very difficult questions which include the following:

* How can southern Africa benefit from the global 'livestock revolution'?

* What options exist for trade given changes in market demand, entry requirements and trade preferences?

* What veterinary and food safety standards are required for different trade options?

* What does this imply for disease control and management of transboundary diseases such as foot and mouth?

* Who are the winners and losers of different scenarios for the future?

The beef industry in the region has been a stalwart of economic development, but do the new conditions of trade and market access and disease dynamics, particularly of foot-and-mouth disease, suggest new options must be sought?

Organisers said this workshop will debate these questions, and explore alternative scenarios from four country settings: Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, as well as the wider southern African region.

Julia Day, one of the organisers, said the workshop was the culmination of an 18-month study supported by the United Kingdom-based Welcome Trust and co-ordinated by the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex in the UK. "The country studies have produced a series of mapping papers, identifying alternative market access and disease control scenarios, focusing on the beef trade and the challenge of foot-and-mouth disease specifically.

"The aim of the workshop will be to debate these findings and seek the way forward for national, regional and international policy," she said. Southern Africa's beef industry, and with it veterinary control and management systems, evolved in a very different era: large scale commercial production systems dominated, major subsidies were provided at different parts of the value chain and preferential access to key export markets was assured. But contexts are fast changing.

A wider group of producers, including smallholders, are demanding access to markets and the privileged position of large scale ranching is being questioned. Subsidies have been slashed and development efforts have concentrated increasingly on broader-based growth objectives. At the same time, preferential trade agreements -- notably the ACP quota system for trade with the European Union -- have ended; giving way to Economic Partnership Agreements, with uncertain consequences for the beef industry, and global supply and competition continues to increase. But all is not doom and gloom.

New markets are opening up -- in the region, as urban growth accelerates and demand for red meat increases, as well as in Asia and the Middle East. However, changing patterns of transboundary animal diseases make the future of the region's beef industry very uncertain.

With foot-and-mouth disease endemic among buffalo populations across southern Africa, there is always the risk of a new outbreak. Experts say these populations are due to increase significantly in number and distribution with the establishment of transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs) aimed at creating a vast network of conservation areas established to promote biodiversity and eco-tourism, encapsulated by the vision of an 'Africa without fences'.

Experts say this complicates disease management systems involving area-based zonation, movement control, fencing, permits and animal traceability which in any case are both difficult and expensive to implement. As import standards ratchet ever upwards, questions are raised about the feasibility of compliance, given other demands on already stretched veterinary systems and the apparently conflicting demands of livestock development and conservation within the over-arching context of rural development and poverty alleviation.

Day said that given these new contexts, and given the critical importance of the livestock industry for economic development, there was an urgent need to challenge past assumptions and evaluate alternatives to the status quo. "The development of the scenario options in the four country papers, as well as the regional overview, offer a map for the way forward. Over the past 18 months -- through a combination of detailed research and numerous stakeholder-led dialogues -- the research teams have explored different scenarios for tackling the challenge of foot-and-mouth disease, relating each to different market access and trade options.

The core question has been: what option (or combination of options) makes the most sense, given the current context? Different criteria are evident, with often clear trade offs.

The studies asked: "which option results in the greatest returns? Which provides benefits to the broadest group of people? And which will be, in the longer term, the most sustainable?" she said. Different scenarios have been explored, and discussed intensely with different stakeholder groups. The results of these engagements will be shared and debated further at the workshop in order to explore ways forward for the future, and identify the key shifts in the policy environment required.

Professor Ian Scoones of the Institute of Development Studies, UK, has drawn attention to the fast changing contexts for southern Africa's livestock production systems.

"A wider group of producers, including smallholders, are demanding access to markets and the privileged position of large scale ranching is being questioned. Subsidies have been slashed and development efforts have concentrated increasingly on broader-based growth objectives. "At the same time, preferential trade agreements -- notably the ACP quota system for trade with the European Union -- have ended, giving way to Economic Partnership Agreements, with uncertain consequences for the beef industry, and global supply and competition continues to increase," he says.

He, however, remains optimistic that the opening up of new markets in urban centres of the region as well as Asia and the Middle East will bring better prospects for the region's beef industry. But Scoones remains concerned at the likelihood of more challenges in managing transfrontier parks, which seek to allow animals free movement.

"The establishment of transfrontier conservation areas . . . complicates disease management systems involving area-based zonation, movement control, fencing, permits and animal traceability which in any case are both difficult and expensive to implement."

allafrica.com

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