FMD could scupper live sheep export plan
01 October 2021 | Agriculture
A controversial business proposal to import thousands of sheep into Namibia for export via sea to the Middle East faces a potential roadblock due to South Africa’s foot and mouth disease status, experts say.
“Due to the recent foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreaks in parts of South Africa, all live imports, including sheep, are prohibited by the Namibian authorities,” Jako van Wyk, vice-chairperson of the Livestock Producers’ Organisation (LPO), explained.
The FMD moratorium is critical to preserve Namibia’s animal health status, a key component of its lucrative beef export market, and could be in place for some time.
“The status quo will not change until South Africa is recognised by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to be free of FMD, and this doesn't seem likely to happen in the near future,” van Wyk said.
Recent reports show the disease continues to spread in South Africa, the agriculture ministry’s department of veterinary services confirmed.
Chief veterinarian of epidemiology, import and export control, Dr Emmanuel Hikufe, confirmed this week that “in-transit of live sheep and goats from South Africa to any of Namibia's Ports will therefore not be allowed”.
The FMD issue was raised in response to plans by Tradeport Namibia, outlined in detail in an environmental scoping report issued in late August, to import between 10 000 to 70 000 sheep from South Africa via Keetmanshoop and Aus, to the port of Lüderitz. From there, the animals will be shipped every few months to the Middle East.
Tradeport, via Enviroleap Consulting, refused to respond to media questions posed to them on the issues raised over the past month by various stakeholders.
Van Wyk pointed out that the scoping report does not deal with the FMD issue at all.
“Nor how they will engage with the authorities to overcome this problem. In light of this, we cannot see this project to be feasible.”
The scoping report notes that sheep will primarily be sourced from South Africa, and states that “strictly no sourcing of livestock from Namibia is foreseen”. And, although a critical partnership with Namport is at the centre of their plans, Namport spokesperson Taná Pesat confirmed that to date they have “no knowledge about this livestock export”.
Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) president Pieter Gouws stressed that “our animal health status is regarded as high priority and because we rely heavily on earning foreign currency through export of our meat to lucrative niche markets. I cannot see that these plans can be feasible.”
Gouws emphasised: “As for EU and other markets, it is not negotiable to put our animal health status at risk.”
He cautioned further that “we cannot open borders for certain actions while prohibiting others,” underlining that Namibian stud breeders have been prohibited to import stud animals to Namibia due to FMD, to their detriment.
Speculation that Tradeport could be given the green light, if the animals are transported via strict quarantine corridors, as bonded transit freight, to the coast, were dismissed.
“Currently it is impossible for Namibian producers to import breeding stock, even if the strictest quarantine protocols are adhered to, we cannot foresee the authorities making an exception in this regard,” Van Wyk said.
Moreover, the LPO is in the process of conducting a study, in collaboration with Hartlief, on the feasibility of a mutton export market, for which, van Wyk emphasised, the animal health status of Namibia is non-negotiable.
Neighbouring South Africa has for the past two years seen multiple legal actions made against shipboard livestock exports from South Africa to the Middle East by Kuwaiti company, Al Mawashi.
So far, none of the court cases have been successful.
Globally, live animal ship export is facing increasing pressure and criticism because of what has been described as an inherently cruel trade.
Van Wyk pointed out that consumer preferences and views play a significant role.
“Therefore it has become ever more important for exporting countries to be sensitive towards the buying trends of the importing country.”
Several commentators have also noted that rather than supporting live exports, Namibia should focus on exporting locally slaughtered meat to Halaal buyers, a financially more beneficial option.
“The core business of these exporters of live sheep is to provide good quality slaughter animals to a market in the Middle East. It simply does not make any logical business sense to buy live animals at top price in South Africa, only to have the quality of the product deteriorate during the transport process,” van Wyk noted.
He added that “conditions on these ships are well-known and documented, particularly by animal welfare organisations and will continue to draw fierce criticism unless a determined effort is put in place to drastically improve transportation conditions”.
He cautioned that the growing criticism of the trade will “attract bad publicity, something the Namibian producer does not deserve”.