• September 29th, 2020

Namibia: Two beef value chains and the shifting of the ‘red line’

When I first visited my in-laws in 1995 in Uukwaludhi in the Omusati Region, I had a very enjoyable journey to the north until I reached Oshivelo police and veterinary check point. 

I started asking my young beautiful wife then a lot of questions about this Oshivelo ‘border’ which separates Namibia.  I did not get concrete answers from my wife, except that the South African apartheid regime used it for checking travel passes for people from the north who wanted to travel to Windhoek, Oranjemund and other parts of the country under the contract labour system. 

I did not want to ask her further questions as she had just returned from exile and I did not want to open old wounds. As a youth activist then in my native country Zimbabwe, we had worked hard to raise funds and campaign at our level then for the independence of Namibia. “If Namibia is independent now why is the border line still there?” I pondered to myself.
Today, 25 years later, I will attempt to answer in this article.

Today we know this internal ‘border’ as the Red Line, also referred to as the veterinary cordon fence (VCF.) The fence separates Namibia northern regions from the rest of the country. The fence, a colonial creation, stretches for over 1500km. 

It covers part of Oshana,  Kavango East, Omusati, Zambezi, Omaheke, Kunene, and parts of Khomas and Oshikoto regions. Colonialists ensured that south of the fence are white commercial farms. On the other hand, north of the line are black communal farmers. This fence has therefore effectively divided the Namibian beef industry into two separate value chains - the ‘white’ beef commercial value chain and the ‘black’ beef communal lands value chain. 
More than half of the country’s 3.2 million cattle are in the northern ‘black’ beef value chain, which are the cordoned off communal areas.

At the present moment the ‘white’ lucrative Namibian beef industry global value chain makes Namibia a net exporter of beef. About 85 percent of the beef from this value chain is meant for exports with an annual monetary value estimated at N$2,5 billion to South Africa, the European Union, Norway, and Russia and also to emerging markets of China, Angola and other African countries.

The Namibian “Red Line” as of 1966

Upgrading of beef industry value chain in general has the potential of taking out many people out of poverty. Both value chains require upgrading (value addition) in order for Namibians to reap full benefits from them. The upgrading strategies that need to be employed in the two value chains will be different but should be integrated into one Namibian beef value chain. 

The current ‘white’ commercial value chain need upgrading in the following activities. Currently, approximately 65 percent of the livestock are exported live, whilst abattoirs in Namibia are closing shop and only 8 percent of the beef is processed in Namibian abattoirs and about 28 percent is contracted to foreign abattoirs.  

In a quest for industrialisation we need to start more agro- beef businesses which will process beef products including slaughtering, canning, tanning and many other value addition activities in order to create employment than to export live animals.  Again in upgrading ‘white’ commercial beef value chain we need further market liberalisation which includes reducing internal and international controls and move towards a free market economy. 

It is also necessary to reduce the permits and licences required. Price controls also need to be looked at, that also applies for the reduction of import tariffs. Employment and wealth can further be created if all beef products are processed locally.
In essence the above upgrading activities in the ‘white’ commercial value chain also apply to the ‘black’ communal northern value chain except that the later need also the following to upgrade. What is very important as an upgrading activity of the ‘black’ communal value chain is to remove the veterinary cordon fence. 

In the first place the real reasons for the establishment of the redline are still debatable as Giorgio Mieschera, a Swiss scholar put it. “This internal border, reflecting veterinary medicine and colonial development, became more determinative for the governmentality and socioeconomic structure of Namibia’s settler society than external borders. The Red Line, a pivotal device of the South African empire, functioned as a ‘Barbarian border’ drawn against the dangers of inner Africa, marking the limits of white South Africa,” he said.

The redline serves no purpose at the moment as that animal disease outbreak that brought about the fence was more than 40 years ago. Secondly, driving to and from the north the search for beef products at the Oshivelo checkpoint was since relaxed and there is a ‘free’ movement of meat for the past years and we have not heard of any outbreak.

Thirdly, the southern farms bordering the condoned northern farms have roads of which livestock freely moves across the fence and this has not resulted in any disease outbreak. However, in order to allay the fears of those who say the removal of the fence will have a devastating effect on the ‘white’ commercial value chain, the fence should simply be moved to the border with Angola.  

Those opposed to the removal of the redline cite the potential loss of access to current export markets due to animal disease, that will result in price depression as a result.  The moving of the redline to the Angolan border will prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease and other livestock diseases to Namibia from Angola and also prevent ‘black’ northern communal farmers from grazing in Angola. More grazing for communal farmers can be created in other parts of the country like Kavango.

Namibian beef value chain will be stronger in numbers, so it is necessary to merge the two value chains at all cost. With the envisaged African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, Namibia will need more beef to export to the rest of the continent and large volumes are needed. To achieve this the ‘black’ northern communal value chain need upgrading. 

Firstly, by educating communal famers not to keep cattle for numerous reasons but for commercialisation. At the moment northern communal farmers perceive cattle to be a safer store of value than money. Communal cattle owners only convert cattle to cash when truly pressing needs arise. 

Secondly, small herd sizes coupled with low productivity and disease prevalence limit cattle commercialisation, as there is only a limited number of marketable surplus animals.  Diseases like foot and mouth outbreaks and regional quarantines further affect investments in cattle markets as only a limited number of cattle are sold through formalised channels. 

Third, poor animal husbandry methods and a lack of deliberate herd management tailored for commercial sales limit commercialisation. Rural farmers only sell old oxen (five or more years old) that have reached only non-productive stage. 
Since farmers only sell old animals, this tends to limit commercialisation, as there are only a limited number of animals available within a herd that can be sold in a given year. 

Fourth, there is a lack of market segmentation in the different parts of northern regions beef sector. For example, some cattle in some northern provinces can gradually be considered commercial beef to join the ‘white’ commercial value chain considering their quality and part of the region they come from. 

This means it the redline can be completely removed, and can moved gradually until it’s completely removed. Also, the current lack of quality and price variations in the standard black northern beef sector leads to substantial underinvestment in herd management and limits commercialisation. 

Upgrading the ‘black’ northern communal value chain requires strong value chain governance in order to mitigate the challenges. Factors that affect the herd size such as low conception rates and disease management should be well coordinated by the government.  

Agricultural extension services have to be strengthened in these areas. Training of farmers is needed, including the creation of a targeted breeding stock of bulls and heifers and the rest to be commercially sold at an appropriate age and weight for income generation. 

There will be urgent need to introduce breeding centres for breed improvement. Lastly, the government and other stakeholders need to invest heavily in cattle health management to eradicate any animal diseases that created the need for the red line.

If Namibian beef is to be the main export to the rest of Africa and America under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), China and European Union, including Norway, we will need huge supply of beef. It thus makes perfect sense to integrate the two value chains into one by shifting the redline to the borders of Angola and upgrade the integrated value chain into a strong Namibian beef global value chain. In the process we will create employment and wealth, taking our people out of poverty.

New Era Reporter
2018-09-26 09:22:09 | 2 years ago

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