THE consequence of the much justified reduction of the number of road blocks is among other things now contributing to the increase in incidents of stock theft.
While I have not done a trend analysis or a cross tabulation of the before and after scenarios in terms of recorded stock theft cases, a casual discussion with farmers in different districts has demonstrated a congruency of perception that there is definitely an increase in stock theft.
The animals are reportedly slaughtered and carcasses transported and channelled into illicit markets in urban centres. The most targeted animals are cattle and goats and the most affected areas are either peri-urban or those along the highways.
Stock theft is a serious issue to a farmer because it means losses of income and disturbance of the production line. In some cases farmers lose high value pedigree breeding stock which is then sold for a song for the pot. The real questions though are, who is the market for these stolen animals?
How can this illicit market for stolen animals, especially carcasses, be closed? I suspect that the meat from stolen animals is bought by some unscrupulous butcheries as well as uncouth restaurant operators in and around cities. One is forgiven for drawing a correlation between the surge in backyard food takeaways and the availability of cheap stolen meat on the market.
Honestly, what is the justification for the outrageous price differences for some plate of isitshwala and meat? Usually it is these backyard places which will offer as low as a dollar for a plate with five pieces of meat yet more established restaurants will charge up to $5 for a similar plate with even fewer pieces of meat!
My point is where are these cheap plate providers getting such cheap meat which allows them to be extravagantly generous with their portions? It is such inevitable questions that make one suspect that they have a source of extremely cheap meat and it is this source that needs to be scrutinised.
My suggestion is that any effective mitigation measure against stock theft should begin from the market going backwards.
I will call this a market-driven stock theft control approach. The long arm of the law should start visiting butcheries to assess the authenticity of their meat suppliers.
Butcheries should have evidence of having either bought their carcasses from registered abattoirs and meat wholesalers or they should produce slaughter sheets if they bought the animals and slaughtered for their butchery operations. In other words there should be evidence of the meat being obtained from legal sources, not backyard illicit supplies.
The same level of scrutinising should be visited to restaurant operators and all these backyard take aways. They must account for the sources of their meat. The market end of the illicit meat value chain must be clamped down and the holes are plugged so that stock theft cases can drop significantly.
The anti-stock theft unit of the Zimbabwe Republic Police must revise its approaches towards combating this vice which is tormenting livestock farmers every day. Imagine losing 40 goats in one night and you search high and low in vain. How do 40 goats just vanish from the veld except that they were loaded into some truck, slaughtered and sold to some uncouth buyers?
One farmer in Mangwe District found remnants of his four cattle after the rustlers had slaughtered, skinned and transported the carcasses, leaving behind hides and rumen contents!
It is against such painful incidents that one is convinced that a market backwards approach in combating stock theft is needed. Without a ready market, livestock rustlers will not have motivation for their activities. The police should start by ensuring that anyone selling isitshwala and meat, be it beef or goat meat they must account for the source by way of authentic receipts and the suppliers followed up to verify their source. Anyone who cannot explain the source of their meat must be charged with the relevant act and tried just like stock thieves. If, however, there is no legislation to charge people who buy meat from unregistered suppliers then anti-stock theft efforts should start by ensuring that we have such a legislation in place.
Just waiting to try and convict a few rag tag cattle rustlers without closing in on the absorbing market is futile.
We have already seen that the sentence of nine years for stock theft has failed to reduce or curb stock theft and hence the need for broadening the anti-stock theft efforts.
To the general public and most importantly livestock farmers I say next time you are enjoying a plate of isitshwala and T-bone for a dollar don’t just marvel at the affordability but you should know that you could be driving an illicit beef supply value chain!