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From the brink of extinction: Zimbabwe's pork industry

20 November 2017

Zimbabwe has a tumultuous history within agriculture and producers are seeking positive change, particularly within pig farming. Here, Ian Nkala writes about the factors that have contributed to the demise of the swine industry in Zimbabwe, and the challenges that producers have faced over the years.

Zimbabwe’s piggery industry is on its knees, weighed down by high production costs, poor producer prices and a cash shortage that has persisted since March 2016.

As a result, the number of producers has been declining over the past 17 years and so has output, a farmer, Abdul Nyathi, told The Pig Site.

A huge maize harvest that Zimbabwe reaped this year motivated him to invest in a 12-sow unit at his farm in southern Matabeleland, South region.

“Stock feed is one big cost for a pig producer in this country,” said Nyathi, who is also the president of the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union.

“It works out to between 75 and 80% of a farmer’s overall production costs. This is on the high side but we are encouraged to go for a low-cost feeding project that is balanced and tastes good for the animals. This year, the country harvested a lot of maize.

“I had a maize crop myself, part of which I sold and retained a portion that we are using on the pigs. This will reduce the cost on feed by up to 50 percent from the amount I would have spent if I used straight feed from Agri Seeds, National Foods and other stock feed suppliers.

“Hopefully the availability of maize would be sustained because without one’s own maize for feed, you can’t succeed given the dynamics in our market.”

Historically commercial pig production was a preserve of a few white farmers who owned large-scale commercial farms, said the Pig Industry Board (PIB), a government parastatal founded in 1937 to promote the development of the sector.

In 2000, the government undertook a land redistribution exercise under which some black farmers were allocated land with piggery infrastructure. However, most of them lack financial resources and the technical skills to run successful piggery projects.

The development and promotional activities of the PIB were traditionally funded from pig levies collected at slaughter,” said the board.

At independence levy income accounted for 13% of the total income of PIB. This increased to a peak of 53% in 1988 and declined steadily thereafter to 2.1% in 2002 and 0% from 2004 [four years after the land redistribution exercise] onwards.

“The actual values due for collection became insignificant and disappeared with the challenges that were bedevilling the Zimbabwe currency. Capital expenditure projects PIB were funded through constrained Government investment programmes.”

The Zimbabwean economy has been declining since 2000 when the government of President Robert Mugabe launched a programme to dispossess white farmers of their land. Up to 12 million hectares of productive farmland was confiscated from some 4,000 white farmers and redistributed to an estimated 380,000 black farmers.

This has impacted negatively on Zimbabwe’s agro-based economy. At its peak, agriculture accounted for as much as 30% of the gross domestic product, according to the Commercial Farmers’ Union, which represents the dispossessed farmers. Now agriculture contributes around 15 percent to the GDP, chiefly because of the adverse implications of the land grab.

Since the piggery sector was anchored on white farmers, it was hit by the upheaval.

Alice Nyamutata and her husband have tried twice without success to launch a successful piggery enterprise:

“It is to do with the high costs versus the return at the end of the day,” she said.

Our farm is small so we cannot grow enough maize to consistently use as pig feed. Buying all the feed from agro-dealers is a non-starter; one would struggle to break even. No bank is lending enough money for farmers to start and operate a viable project. In the end, we realised that it’s not worth the effort.”

The October 2017 market update by the Livestock and Meat Advisory Council (LMAC) says there was a 9% decline in the number of pigs that were slaughtered countrywide from January to August this year compared to those slaughtered over the corresponding period in 2016.

The total number of pigs slaughtered for the first eight months to August 2017 was 102,254, a decline of 9% over the same period in 2016. Assuming that slaughters will occur at the same rate as 2016, the full year slaughters is estimated to be 153 000,” said the report.

The projected slaughters for 2017, the report adds, will most likely be lower than 160,000 pigs recorded in 2016.

PIB director, Andrew Shoniwa told a local daily, NewsDay, in June, that high production costs rendered locally produced pork not price competitive on the regional market.

The current cash shortage is also affecting small butchery outlets, which do not have point-of-sale machines. There have been periodic stock outs of imported feed ingredients and drugs,” he said.

An analysis of the LMAC document shows that the challenges in the piggery sub-sector are no different from other livestock sections as the economic crisis continues.

For example, cumulative beef cattle slaughters to August 2017 were 173,575, a decline of 9% over the corresponding period in 2016. The number of birds processed and broiler meat production in the large scale formal sector in the first half of 2017 was 2% and 8% lower respectively than the same period in 2016. Milk production for the year to July totalled 37.0 million litres, a decline of slightly under 1% over the same period in 2016.

The shortage of cash is forcing local banks to limit daily withdrawal to as little as US$50 daily - Some banks go for days without cash.

The government promised that producer prices will be reviewed but that hasn’t happened yet,” said Nyathi.

If that happens, that would be helpful. But we have a challenge with regard to access to pig abattoirs. Some farmers do not have proper transport to move their animals to the abattoirs, so have to make arrangements to hire. This adds to the production costs.

“As for me, my farm is around 200km to the nearest abattoir in Bulawayo but the good thing for me is that I have reliable transport. We have a duty to bring back the industry from the brink of extinction.”


Ian Nkala

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