Exploring the growth potential of Africa’s meat industry

Thursday June 20 2024

A panel discussion at the Kenya Meat Expo at KICC, Nairobi on June 12, 2024. WILFRED NYANGARESI | NMG

Africa’s meat market holds vast untapped potential, yet its current position in the global meat trade is modest.

Africa is a significant importer of meat products, especially beef, but remains a relatively minor exporter. Traditionally, African meat exports have primarily consisted of live animals, such as cattle from the Sahel to West African coastal markets, and sheep, goats and camels from the Horn of Africa to the Middle East.

In the global meat market, Namibia stands out as a notable exporter of sheep and goat meat, ranking 10th worldwide. Botswana, Namibia, and Swaziland also export modest quantities of beef to high-value markets in the European Union (EU).

However, most of Africa’s meat exports are minor regional trades or informal transactions. Conversely, Africa south of the Sahara is a major importer of both poultry and beef. In 2019, the region imported nearly one million metric tons of beef and over two million metric tons of poultry.

Africa’s limited presence in global meat production and trade can be attributed to several factors. Traditional livestock breeds, while resilient, yield less meat compared to more productive exotic breeds. Furthermore, traditional livestock systems are often poorly integrated with formal markets, limiting sales and commercialisation. Endemic animal diseases, poor infrastructure, and high transaction costs further complicate investment and market access.

The continent also faces competition for grains used as animal feed, driving up costs and reducing efficiency. Regulatory and policy challenges, such as inconsistent tax laws and limited veterinary support, hinder the sector’s growth. Additionally, a lack of meat grading systems results in undifferentiated products, failing to maximise carcass value. Low per capita income levels in many African countries further constrain domestic demand and consumption.


Leading producers

In 2020, South Africa was ranked the top beef producer in Africa. The country produced over one million metric tons of cattle meat that year. Tanzania and Chad followed, with production volumes of 487000 and 473000 metric tons of meat respectively.

Ethiopia, which had the largest cattle stock in the continent, registered an output of 433,000 metric tons of beef and veal.

Ethiopia and Tanzania are two of Eastern Africa’s leading livestock producers. Ethiopia boasts the continent’s largest livestock population, while Tanzania also has substantial numbers.

Despite their large herds, productivity and commercialisation in both countries remain low.

For instance, meat exports from Ethiopia and Tanzania constitute only a small fraction of their overall export commodities.


Derick Muganda of Ongole Beef interacts with Kenya Meat Expo participants at KICC, Nairobi on June 13, 2024. WILFRED NYANGARESI | NMG

According to the Central Statistical Agency of Ethiopia (2020), the country has a livestock population constituting about 70 million cattle, 42.9 million sheep, 52.5 million goats, 8 million camels, and 57 million poultry.

Tanzania is estimated to have more than 34 million beef cattle, 25 million goats, 8.9 million sheep, 3.3 million pigs, and 87.7 million poultry.

Ethiopia’s meat yield is relatively low, with carcass weights significantly below global averages.

Similarly, Tanzania’s red meat production is dominated by beef, with modest contributions from goats and sheep.

Despite both countries’ large inventories of livestock, productivity and commercialisation of the sector remains low.

According to the Ethiopia, Livestock State Ministry, exports of meat and other slaughter by-products comprise only two percent of overall export commodities. In Tanzania, the same is less than one percent.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), between the years 2004 and 2014, the average meat yield (carcass weight) in Ethiopia was 0.8kg for poultry, 10kg for sheep, 8.5kg for goats, 170kg for camels, and about 109kg for cattle.

In comparison within the region, Kenya has 18.8 million cattle (14.3 million beef cattle and 4.5 million dairy cows), 26.7 million goats, and 18.9 million sheep. There are 3.2 million camels, 44.6 million poultry, 1.9 million donkeys and 500,000 pigs.

The country has a current beef production of 260,000 tonnes. Kenya looks to achieve self-sufficiency in beef as the demand in the domestic market is 40,000 tonnes larger than production.

In Tanzania, between the years 2016 and 2017, beef meat accounted for 82 percent of total red meat production, goats for 14 percent, and mutton four percent.

Meat production in both Ethiopia and Tanzania offers the opportunity to serve both regional export markets and domestic needs.

Both countries have large, growing populations and rising incomes, increasing domestic demand for meat. However, structural and institutional constraints, such as feed availability and financial services, limit supply.

Strategic initiatives and policy reforms

Recognising the potential of the livestock sector, governments in Ethiopia and Tanzania have undertaken several strategic initiatives. Ethiopia’s Growth and Transformation Programme (GTP II) and Tanzania’s Livestock Modernisation Initiative aim to enhance productivity and market competitiveness. These programmes focus on improving genetics, feed, and livestock health services, as well as developing infrastructure and market facilities.

However, effective policy implementation remains a challenge. Both countries need complementary policy support, such as animal identification and traceability programmes, improved food safety measures, and investment in market infrastructure. Enhancing veterinary services, promoting high-potential fodder production, and creating an enabling environment for private sector investment are also crucial.

Africa’s meat market, despite its current limitations, holds significant promise. Strategic investments and supportive policies can unlock this potential, boosting productivity, domestic consumption, and export capacity.

With its vast livestock resources and strategic geographic location, Africa can become a major player in the global meat industry, contributing to economic growth and food security on the continent.

By Pauline Kairu