The status and future role of the livestock sector in a sustainable context

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Media Release
For immediate release 10 June 2013
The status and future role of the livestock sector in a sustainable context
The socio-economic contribution and growth of the livestock sector is satisfactory, in fact increasing as a proportion of total agriculture; and it is not over-compromising resources and the environment. This was found in a comprehensive study on the status and impact of livestock production in South Africa under the supervision of Dr Heinz Meissner.
Livestock agriculture in South Africa has become more and more in the public eye, more often due to negative perceptions. Concerned citizens frequently raise questions about the impact of livestock production on popularly debated issues such as animal welfare, loss of natural systems and biodiversity, overuse of water in a water-scarce country, zoonosis, impact of livestock products on human health, and more recently the contribution to greenhouse gasses. In these debates little if any recognition is given to the positives, sometimes due to ignorance, but more often because of effective lobbying by anti-livestock activists, who in extreme cases have called for reduced livestock numbers and to stop consumption of livestock foods. Such drastic interventions will have major impacts on the provision of food and clothing, on employment and socio-economic development, and on GDP and the economic viability of non-metropolitan towns and associated communities. This scenario is not unique to South-Africa; it is a global phenomenon.
The research conducted under the supervision of Dr Meissner is presented in a document which provides a thorough scientific overview of the status and worth of the livestock sector. It also provides facts and figures to refute these wrong assumptions and perceptions, and to define the challenges which need to be addressed by government, commodity structures, research and development institutions, and farmers to take the sector forward in a sustainable way.
In summary, it is shown that, contrary to general belief, consumption of livestock foods resembles that of low-income countries, which provides scope for increasing production. There is also scope to increase competitiveness and production efficiency to the benefit of profitability and socio-economic development. This can be achieved without negative impacts to the environment and the carbon and water footprint. In the commercial livestock category some 20% reduction in carbon and water footprint can be achieved with minor, yet dedicated adjustments in management. In the emerging/communal livestock category accelerated commercialisation is necessary requiring a mind shift by government and communal structures if the objectives are to be attained.
What lies ahead to ensure sustainability?
Challenges will have to be addressed by the industry as a collective and commodity organisations for specific issues.
A major challenge is competitiveness, which is low because of inefficiency and very little export. By addressing inefficiency the opportunity for export will arise, provided attitudes change and structures are put in place. Addressing inefficiency is a matter of technology development, technology transfer and mostly communication and dedication. Also, by addressing inefficiency the carbon and water footprint per unit product is reduced. Commodity and farmer support bodies should take the lead.
Assuring enabling environments for the livestock industries to operate in the global village, is the
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responsibility of governments. In South Africa this responsibility, although recognized in the DAFF Livestock and Development Strategy, has largely not being implemented because of political issues, other government priorities, a lack of suitably trained officials, vacancies not being filled, lack of support to research and development as well as extension services, and various other reasons. The lack of initiatives and actions to fast track commercialization of emerging farmers and to make inroads into the poverty problem in rural areas is a major concern. Calculations and case studies clearly show that people can be freed from the devastating spiral of poverty if rural agriculture can be commercialised, supporting in the wider context resource influx and export initiation. Being primarily livestock owners, the initiative to relieve poverty must be livestock based.
To be more effective, government (local, provincial, national), livestock industries as a collective and commodity organisations will have to share the responsibility to enable the services required to effect a viable enabling environment. Government will have to show a clear and strong commitment in this regard. In addition, it may require a paradigm shift by livestock industries, because it may require working together and new responsibilities which they are not used to. Such services may include border and fence control, laboratory and testing services, performance schemes, R & D, technology transfer and training, and taking a larger share than currently in assisting emerging and new farmers to become fully-fledged commercial farmers.
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