Abattoirs working overtime

Fully booked, amid producer scramble

27 June 2019 | Agriculture

Meatco said it is investigating opening additional slaughter capacity to accommodate cattle producers in this time of crisis, as farmers desperately try to sell off their livestock while the drought drags on.

Rina Hough, commodities assistant at the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) said Meatco is currently flooded with cattle slaughter requests.

“They are fully booked and slaughter at maximum capacity each day. This has been the case since early this year. Their employees are working overtime (Saturdays),” Hough said.

Hough said smaller B- and C-grade abattoirs, of which there are many, are also fully booked at the moment.

“The abattoirs that are open slaughter as much as they can right now. There are many farmers who cannot obtain a slaughter allocation for months ahead as everything is fully booked, thus (they are) feeding their animals if they can or selling in large numbers at auctions,” Hough added.

She said farmers who are forced to sell on auction fetch lower prices, which they have to contend with because they have to market their cattle.

Meatco board member Dr Diana van Schalkwyk confirmed that Meatco in Windhoek is currently slaughtering at full capacity of 630 cattle per day.

She said the throughput north of the veterinary cordon fence (VCF) is only limited to one mobile slaughter unit.

“The B-class local abattoirs slaughter around 80% of their capacity, but throughput is limited to the demand in the local market. The local market is currently saturated with meat as a lot of informal trading occurs,” Van Schalkwyk said.

Abattoir capacities

According to statistics provided by Ace Mutelo, chief of information systems at the Meat Board of Namibia, the two cattle abattoirs used by Meatco - the Windhoek abattoir and the Beefcor abattoir in Okahandja - have been operating at a combined capacity of 67.12% since January.

The abattoirs in Okahandja and Brukarros have been closed since further notice.

South of the VCF the small livestock marketing scheme experienced some problems, which paralysed the sheep industry. Only two of the four small livestock abattoirs remain operational, with the one in Mariental being run by South Africans on a contract slaughter basis.

Van Schalkwyk said the sheep industry needs a lucrative international market to enable it to pay better prices to sheep producers.

“These markets are available and need to be explored,” she said.

Meatco, which runs the only export abattoir, in the past experienced mistrust from cattle producers due to undue political interference and its throughput has declined.

Matters have, however, improved.

Van Schalkwyk said Meatco's fortunes have not improved due to the drought, but rather because it has embarked on a turnaround strategy, which improved efficiencies and resulted in better prices paid to cattle producers.

North of the VCF only the mobile slaughter unit remains where so far 223 cattle have been slaughtered since the beginning of this year, according to Mutelo's statistics. During 2018, a total of 438 cattle were slaughtered.

The abattoirs at Katima Mulilo and Oshakati have both been closed due to foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).



The NCA

Van Schalkwyk said abattoirs north of the VCF are still struggling to get off the ground due to the disease status of the area, and the fact that quarantine and maturation of carcasses and cuts need to be in place before any exporting can occur.

“Many markets also do not want meat where the animals were vaccinated against FMD. The quarantine and maturation processes add additional costs to the operations, which are detrimental to such a company's competitiveness,” Van Schalkwyk said.

She said refurbishments to the Katima Mulilo and Oshakati abattoirs were underway, but not complete. The construction of the Rundu abattoir is also ongoing.

Van Schalkwyk said it would take only one abattoir to be upgraded and operated on expert level, with the appropriate maturation of meat, to improve the marketing of beef in the NCA.

“Government should step in and assist in this regard,” Van Schalkwyk advised.

She said farmers in the FMD-free area do better than those in the NCA because they have better access to lucrative markets.

Van Schalkwyk said the VCF “can be gradually moved to open up areas to be part of the FMD-free area”.

“The industry needs to drive this endeavour together with government,” she suggested.

Van Schalkwyk said there are currently no cattle north of the VCF being illegally peddled across to the FMD-free area, adding the Directorate of Veterinary Services in the agricultural ministry “has their controls in place”.

CATHERINE SASMAN