Poor production methods and limited market access continue to hold back small African cattle farmers from developing, according to studies in Kenya and South Africa.
A comparative study exploring the challenges farmers face in two cattle-farming provinces in South Africa and Kenya found that broker controlled markets — prevalent in Kenya — should be avoided in South Africa as market access for farmers is improved. It further identified the Meat Naturally Initiative (MNI), a sustainable livestock farming and land use initiative in the Eastern Cape, as a successful case study that could be replicated in both countries to tackle these challenges and increase the access and participation of small-scale farmers in beef markets.
“In cattle farming, in particular, poor grazing practises and a lack of vaccination produce poor quality animals,” said director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) at Rhodes University, and lead researcher in the study, Cyril Nhlanhla Mbatha, adding, “Limited information, poor infrastructure and cultural issues are some of the factors leading to low participation levels of these farmers in livestock markets.”
The study looked at how some of the common challenges in cattle production and market access have been overcome in both countries.
According to Prof Mbatha a higher number of rural South African farmers remain excluded from different parts of the value chains of formal beef markets compared with Kenya, keeping their contribution to the country’s demand for beef in the margins, even when they own large herds of cattle.
“Rural South African small farmers, still operating mainly within traditional farming systems, are generally faced with high production and marketing challenges, which prevent them from developing into successful commercial farmers, due to lack of innovativeness,” he said.
Challenges also stem from many more farmers owning smaller herds, than fewer farmers owning bigger herds, leading to conflicts among livestock owners on land management issues in limited volume communal grazing areas, that negatively impact the health and number of Large Stock Units raised per hectare of land and hence quality. Transaction costs such as transportation of stock to and from markets, too, force farmers to opt out of formal markets, leaving them with limited prospects.