The shipment of 50 310 sheep once at the centre of a legal debacle between Kuwaiti-based meat importer, Al Mawashi and the NSPCA, have officially settled into their 400-hectare home in a shaded farming facility in the Middle East.
The Al Mawashi sheep are grazing and adapting under the new conditions of their foreign home, confirms Eben Du Plessis, chairman in the communications committee for Agri Eastern Cape. Al Mawashi sent a series of video updates to various stakeholders throughout the 20-day shipment.
“They are healthy, they are clean. They are in very good condition. Hygiene concerns were among the top of the NSPCA’s argument – that they would be covered in dung or wet and dirty, that the animals would not be in very good shape overall.”
The livestock now proudly fly the Mzansi flag high as they are key in building a sustainable market for local livestock farmers both commercial and emerging in Kuwait.
The export of live animals to the Middle East represent a huge opportunity for the Eastern Cape’s agricultural economy, says Du Plessis.
In March, Al Mawashi signed a multimillion rand off-take agreement set to procure sheep to the value of R30 mil to R90 mil over the next three years.
The Al Mawashi deal is set to be part of its empowerment strategy to grow, foster and support the development of black emerging livestock farmers alongside commercial farmers in the live export industry.
The agreement is now crucial for post-covid-19 economic recovery in the province, where farmers battle with persistent droughts, Du Plessis says. “A certain portion of produce will come from emerging farmers. This is something we support because it will give our farmers in the Eastern Cape an enormous boost.
Live exports of sheep are equally critical in aiding the arid Middle Eastern countries’ dwindling food security, religious sacrifices and consumer preference for freshly slaughtered meat.
Legal woes, however, became a hinderance in the execution of the mammoth deal, until Al Mawashi was given the green light by the Grahamstown high court in August.
The court ruled it would allow only a maximum of 56 000 sheep aboard the freighter Al Messiah. The process of loading sheep and conditions on the vessel were also to be strictly scrutinised by the provincial department of agriculture.
Only when the Al Messiah adhered to strict World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) standards would it be allowed to disembark the port of East London.
The shipment arrived at the end of September with a minimal mortality rate, Al Mawashi revealed in a Facebook post.
The Middle Eastern importer of red meat produce has also recently released a 15-minute documentary on YouTube. It depicts the four-day process of loading thousands of sheep and some hundred cattle aboard the Al Messiah.
These Mzansi livestock hailing from the Eastern, Northern and Western Cape are now intended to contribute to the dwindling food security in the Middle Eastern country with conditions too arid to sustain its own live produce.
The video features Nonthunzi Boyce who leads a farming cooperative of five females in Alfred Nzo district, producing chickens, sheep, and goats.
Boyce says, “In South Africa we have no jobs and are dying of hunger and poverty. The trading of sheep by Al Mawashi has encouraged me and makes me feel alive.”
Young farmer Hannes Viljoen says, “It is a massive opportunity for the EC and its farmers. The last ten years have been extremely difficult, farmers have been pushed to their breaking point with the worst drought. Sheep exports have become the lifeline,” he says.
Du Plessis reveals farm animals are exported from SA to Mauritius every year. In the thick of legal tension in March a shipment had embarked for the island nation.
A farmer would never willingly endanger an animal despite assumptions made by the NSPCA, he says. “For them nothing outside of animal welfare matters. They don’t care about the producer.”
“The reason why we farm with animals is because we love them. An animal’s safety is top priority, that’s why Agri EC intervened to ensure conditions of animal welfare were suitable for the voyage.”
Unpacking the NSPCA v Al Mawashi battle
The journey starts in 2018
- January: The Eastern Cape development corporation (EDCD) embarks on a mission to enhance its footing in global trade opportunities within agro-processing markets. Talks begin when Al Mawashi, a Kuwaiti-based importer that sources a shipment of livestock and sheep carcasses.
- March: ECDC head Thabo Shenxane reveals the province is a suitable destination for trade of livestock and sheep carcasses. Al Mawashi’s interest is peaked as feasibility study shows the EC as highest producer of livestock at 30%, followed by the Northern Cape with 24.4%.
- May: According Reuters, Al Mawashi CEO, Usama Khaled Boodai, announces that they are in talks with new livestock suppliers. South Africa, Sudan and Horn of Africa countries show potential to diversify the source of livestock, following legislative ban on live exports in Australia.
2019 heralds major opportunity for 150 EC farmers
- Al Mawashi SA launched. East London becomes the hub of the massive deal with the only licensed livestock harbour in the country.
- January: Export consignments between the Eastern Cape and Middle East begin. Al Mawashi builds largest feeding lot in Southern Africa 40 Kilometres from East London in Berlin.
- June: R22 mil has been invested through export of more than 11 000 carcasses.
- September: Some 60 000 sheep board Al Shuwaikh. NSPCA is horrified by arrival of Al Shuwaikh, saying the route and climatic conditions were high risk and could see sheep suffer. NSPCA begins petition against shipment.
- September: NSPCA demands government intervene. The live exports of sheep must be promulgated through section 10 of animal protection Act 72 of 1962.
- October: ECDC reveals Al Mawashi expenditure thus far includes, R38.7 mil on chilled meat exports, R89 mil on purchasing of livestock to Middle East market, R32 mil spent on fodder. In addition, R10.5 mil invested in construction of Berlin feedlot including skills training and 58 employment opportunities.
- October: Al Shuwaikh departs. NSPCA threatens legal action against stakeholders involved. NSPCA’s Meg Wilson vows: “We may have lost the battle, but we have not lost the war.”
- November: NSPCA lays criminal charges of animal cruelty against national and EC provincial departments of agriculture, Al Mawashi, the captain of Al Shuwaikh vessel and the Page Farming Trust.
- November: Market-related rates to 150 South African livestock farmers tallies R155 mil cash injection to EC agricultural economy in under 12 months. Al Mawashi reveals mortality rate of live animals hit 0.2%, well below the benchmark of 2% in the blunder that ended Australian exports.
2020 ‘You the New Era farmer are top priority’
- February: NSPCA lodges urgent application to interdict impending voyage of sheep in Grahamstown high court.
- March: Al Mawashi announces first ever live export off-take agreement with emerging black livestock farmers. A preferential procurement amounting to R30 mil to R90 mil forms part of the company’s empowerment strategy in development of emerging farmers on commercial scale.
- March: NSPCA learns 70 000 sheep set to board Al Messiah, a “glorified rust bucket,” executive director Marcelle Meredith remarked in a press release.
- March: NSPCA alleges Al Mawashi emerging farmer deal is “over exaggerated.” Claims only 11 farmers of 150 benefitted from November deal.
- June: NSPCA interdicts and intercepts shipment of 72 000 sheep with urgent application in hand from Grahamstown high court. Al Messiah ordered to remain anchored at East London harbour until court appearance on 16 July 2020.
- June: Al Mawashi applies for interim interdict to be reconsidered. Prolonged delay, it claims, is weighing heavily on its pockets. Also agrees to downscale shipment to 56 000.
- July: NSPCA and Al Mawashi meets in court. The meat exporter emerges victorious.
- July: Organized agriculture throws weight behind Al Mawashi. Leadership of the red meat producers (RPO), Agri SA, Agri Northern Cape and Agri Eastern Cape support the trade of livestock by ship when ethically done. Consensus is reached that this live exports could raise the bar for the industry.
- August: Unrelenting in legal action, NSPCA challenges decision of Grahamstown high court and suffers another blow. Court rules Al Messiah may embark on it voyage of 56 000 sheep.
- September: We bid adieu to 50 132 sheep and 620 heads of cattle. NSPCA still vows to act against stakeholders involved and raises accusations of contravention of animal protection Act 71 of 1962, alleging animal abuse.
- October: Al Mawashi South Africa releases 15-minute documentary countering assumptions made by the NSPCA.