As young men-to-be in many corners of Mzansi are completing their initiation rites, rural livestock farmers are doing their part to supply the cattle, goats and sheep needed to honour their customs. But although farmers are seeing a return to normal demand for their livestock – after a Covid-19 pause last year – the economy is putting a damper on the boost that initiations and other cultural celebrations usually bring to their small businesses.
According to the National Emergent Red Meat Producers’ Organisation (NERPO) the industry generated about a billion rand from the sale of meat and livestock during the end-of-year season for cultural celebrations. That was before 2020, when Covid-19 interrupted the traditional calendar.
Initiation schools and larger gatherings were given the green light to resume this year and especially rural livestock farmers were looking forward to the unique opportunity to supply pre-Covid numbers of cattle, sheep and goats. It is unlikely, however, that farmers will make significant profit from it, says NERPO spokesperson Congress Mahlangu.
“During the festive season it’s always the custom for people to buy lots of livestock, particularly in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga where initiation customs are mostly practised.
Mahlangu says it is difficult to determine accurate sales figures for small-scale farmers to culturally specific events, as much of the trade takes place in the informal industry and many of the rituals are sacred to those who practise them.
“Each family is required to slaughter at least a goat. You can imagine how many goats, sheep and cattle are required as thousands of boys undergo this rite of passage throughout the country. It is definitely a big industry.
“Informal farmers, those who farm in their backyards and those who are registered small-scale farmers tend to benefit a lot, compared to big commercial farmers.”
He says even though NERPO has foreseen and increase in red meat sales this season, “I am not confident to say this year’s initiation season will bring fortune to the local farmers”. This is due to the pandemic and rising prices preventing consumers from buying as much meat as they did before.
Not enough livestock
Kwanda Nyanzeka, a livestock farmer and Youtuber from Ntabankulu in the Eastern Cape, agrees that there has been an increase in cultural activities as many people were unable to perform their cultural duties this time last year. But it is difficult to say whether it represents opportunity to small-scale farmers.
“We are still trying to adjust to the new normal because of the economic climate we as farmers find ourselves in. It is a very difficult one: food and feed prices have increased.
“Many farmers are not breeding enough livestock for the market. The effects of Covid-19 are still there and consumers are still economical with their money,” he explains.
Too much competition
A small-scale livestock farmer from George in the Western Cape, Xolisani Booi, says business started picking up for him in June, during the winter initiation season.
“There was a greater demand for goats starting from June, and sheep made really good sales. I think from the business side of this things there was an improvement compared to last year during the hard lockdown.”
Despite this improvement, the gains were countered by setbacks, one being the recent floods in George that had a devastating effect on Booi and some fellow farmers. He lost more than 40 sheep and a number of goats, which means that he has little to sell this season.
“Although there’s a great demand for livestock… we have lost many of our livestock and many of us have literally nothing to sell.”
He, too, lists feed prices and the financial fallout of Covid-19 as challenges that currently constrain livestock farmers, along with increased competition. “Competition is too much among us during this season. One is sometimes forced to reduce prices… something that can affect a farmer in the long term.”
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