South Africa’s red meat industry has the potential to increase exports significantly in the next ten years. This is the view of Gerhard Schutte, CEO of the Red Meat Producers’ Organisation (RPO).
In an interview with Food For Mzansi, Schutte spoke candidly about what the industry could expect in the next decade.
While red meat remains one of the most complex industries, Schutte reckons Mzansi does stand a chance of bumping up its exports from the current 5% to 20% of production.
This, he explains is predominantly fueled by our champion feedlot industry.
Exports expected to increase significantly
“The beef industry in South Africa is internationally competitive. We have a very good, developed feedlot industry, which means that our produced product is similar and of a very high quality,” he says.
On top of that, Mzansi has a very unique classification system. Animals are slaughtered at very young age, which in return produces high-quality, tender meat.
Should Schutte’s export prediction prevail, it will place the total industry on a whole new level. This, he says, will have to be combined effort from the entire value chain.
Staying internationally competitive
To further push development agendas, Schutte states the only way the local industry will stay internationally competitive is through “a well-developed research and development programme.”
Red Meat Research and Development South Africa (also known as RMRD) is already celebrated for its significant contribution. While the focus has shifted to research, Schutte says it is now time to get practical in terms of development.
“We are getting there,” he says. “We must also remember that our industry is 40% transformed. Fourty percent of all livestock belongs to emerging producers and 1.2 million households in South Africa own livestock.”
While it is challenging, it is also an opportunity to get up-and-coming producers into the mainstream red meat value chain, Schutte explains.
Furthermore, the industry’s consumer education programmes will also have to gain momentum. “This is due to various myths, and green movements’ attacks on our product and industry are increasing. It will increasingly be a function of the producer organisation to undertake production development.”
Future retailer participation
Schutte believes retailers’ participation is paramount to the development and growth of the red meat industry.
“The consumer is king and queen. We must present to the consumer what they want and in the form that they want it. Of course, retailers have a very big role to play here,” says Schutte.
Research and development programmes will have to address the risks of the greenies, and the carbon and water footprint of the industry, he says. “Research on consumer behaviour will be critical to grow the consumption of our product.”
Furthermore, animal health will also have to receive more attention.
Traceability in the primary sector
When it comes to full traceability, Schutte says, South Africa is halfway there.
Traceability systems will have to be combined with tracking systems. Also, financial institutions will have to be convinced to buy into it in order for producers to use livestock as collateral to acquire funding.
“There is buy in from the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development and we have a committee which is going to implement traceability in South Africa.
“But we must remember because we have such a good, developed feedlot industry we are halfway there. Once the weaner calve gets to the feedlot – from thereon, there is full traceability,” he explains.
The only challenge, Schutte believes, is traceability in the primary sector, however they hope to be fully developed in the coming years.
Producers to remain key
But with all this development talk, will farmers, especially those operating in the non-commercial sector (smallholder and subsistence farmers), be left behind?
“We are in a totally new phase,” says Schutte. ”The industry is completely deregulated and farmers nowadays must really understand their own marketing.”
However, the RPO will continue to play a role where government cannot.
“We do production development. We try to provide producers and consumers with the right information at the right time.
“Producers have asked for regular industry-related communication and we do this through an electronic magazine, monthly newsletters and WhatsApps,” he says.
The transformation agenda and implementing of enterprise development will play a critical role in terms of the future of the red meat industry, Schutte believes.
And in order for the industry to go from strength to strength in the next ten years, it is necessary that producers stay on the forefront of technical and market information.