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Meat crisis deepens

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

MASERU — Lesotho’s meat crisis is set to persist with South Africa this week saying it is not yet ready to lift its ban on meat exports.

Lesotho has been experiencing a serious meat crisis since South Africa banned exports in February after a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in the KwaZulu Natal province.

Since then local businesses have been battling to get enough beef, mutton and pork.

The void left by South Africa has had to be filled by local farmers who are either unable to supply enough livestock or cannot produce Grade A meat.

Local shops have had to do with selling grade C meat which consumers are reluctant to buy because of its poor quality. 

South Africa’s livestock authorities told the Lesotho livestock department representatives at a meeting in Bloemfontein on Thursday that they will not lift the ban until they have thoroughly investigated the impact of the disease on the country’s meat industry.

Lesotho’s officials had gone to plead with South Africa to lift the ban which is now threatening the country’s butcheries and other related industrial sectors.

Dr Malefane Moleko of the livestock department in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security told the Sunday Express that the meat crisis is set to continue until South Africa has dealt with the problem.

“SA still has the foot-and-mouth disease. The red meat exportation ban has never been lifted. Investigations are still being carried out and it is not yet known how long the ban will last,” Moleko said.

“We are not being difficult. The producer has discovered a disease that is of danger to human life and told us that he would not supply us with the product until the problem is sorted”.

Sources that spoke to the Sunday Express last week said the crisis might continue for the next few months.

For South Africa to resume its meat exports it will have to first prove that it has vaccinated almost all cattle in the country.

That vaccination will also include pigs and sheep which are also susceptible to the foot-and-mouth disease.

That process, experts note, might take months.

Yet even if the ban is lifted sooner it will not undo the damage already suffered by Lesotho’s meat industry.

What has exacerbated the crisis is the fact that Lesotho does not have a commercial beef industry from which local businesses can get the meat while waiting for South Africa to lift the ban.

At the moment Meraka Lesotho Abattoir and Feedlot, the country’s only abattoir, which supplies local shops, butcheries and wholesalers, is only able to provide grade C quality meat.

The abattoir is getting its meat from local farmers but an official at the company said the supply of livestock is running out.

The chairperson of the Meraka Lesotho Abattoir, ’Mammako Molapo, said the abattoir has been severely affected by the crisis.

Molapo said last month alone the company lost about M200 000 and continues to incur huge losses as the crisis persists.

She warned that the company might shut down soon unless the situation improves.

“This has affected us very badly. We would have to close down if the problem continues,” Molapo said.

“Our biggest buyers like Shoprite and Pick ‘n Pay have reduced the quantity of meat they are buying from us. The C grade meat that we get from local farmers is also running out,” she said.

Last month South Africa agreed to supply deboned meat to Lesotho but even that reprieve has not helped ease the crisis.

The problem is that deboned meat is twice more expensive than normal cuts that butcheries buy from South Africa and ordinary customers cannot afford it.

For example, while a hindquarter costs about M30 per kilogramme from South African abattoirs, deboned meat goes for around M54 per kilogramme.

Value Added Tax and transport costs can push the total price per kilogramme to about M65.

On top of that local shops and butcheries will have to add a profit margin of about 20 percent.

That cost alone makes it unviable for local businesses to import deboned meat.

Yet even if they manage to bring the deboned meat into Lesotho very few people will be able to afford it.

Players in the beef industry say the other problem is that deboned meat cannot be cut into special cuts like brisket, T-bone, and rump steak.

Local butcheries, shops and wholesalers have been hard hit by the crisis.

Last month Bataung Rego, manager of Bensons Meat Market, said he had laid-off 10 employees because of the losses he had incurred due to the crisis.

Rego said the business was losing up to M15 000 every week.

Industry players say if the crisis continues for the next month more businesses might be forced to cut jobs or shut down altogether.

“I am beginning to ask myself why I continue to open doors everyday if there is nothing to sell,” said a director of a local meat wholesaler that is on the verge of collapse.

“If the situation does not improve I will have to close shop. But even if the ban is lifted soon there is no way I can regain the customers I have lost. It might take months before the business recovers from the crisis,” he added.

The outlook is bleak for many businesses in the meat industry.

There are unconfirmed reports that some local businesses have resorted to smuggling grade A meat from South Africa.

But Moleko said his department is yet to investigate the allegations. 

“I cannot confirm that red meat has been smuggled into the country until the product has been tested and traced to SA livestock. It could still happen that somehow Meraka (Lesotho Abattoir) could come across a patch of cattle that produces grade A meat,” he said.

“But my office has sent some officials to investigate allegations that some butcheries were still selling A grade meat,” he said.

Moleko said even though he could not immediately suspect meat smuggling it was only in rare cases that local farmers could produce A grade meat.

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