Livestock policy must empower farmers

by Sunday News Online | Sunday, Sep 24, 2017 | 1203 views


Mhlupheki Dube

ONE of the contentious issues in almost all agriculture-based value chains is the buying price offered to producers of various agricultural commodities.
Producers always complain that buyers are offering below optimum prices for their commodities while buyers complain that farmers demand prices which are not viable for businesspeople.

The question which remains unanswered is why do farmers become price takers not dictators of prices of their own produce.

While economists will want to explain it in terms of supply and demand matrix they are however, unable to explain why manufacturers who dictate prices to producers somehow manage to still dictate prices of their products to consumers.

While the market forces may play a part in determining prices, meat wholesalers still decide on their own how much they want to sell their beef to retailers and in turn these also decide their prices for their consumers.

The farmer who is the producer of the commodity somehow cannot decide on the price especially when selling to abattoirs. The auction system may be considered to be a bit better because the farmer can choose to take the animal out if the price is not good.

However, some auction sale points are very far and farmers transport their animals to these sales and it may not be easy to opt out even if the price is not good.

It is my contention that such policies as the overdue livestock production policy should be addressed.

It may not be easy but the situation where farmers continue to toil and sweat for players within the middle to upper end of the livestock value chain should come to an end. Mechanisms should be found and put in place for producers especially livestock farmers to be able to participate in determining prices of their animals. The price cannot simply be handed down and that is accepted in the name of pseudo market forces.

The question therefore is how can the livestock production policy strengthen statutory bodies such as the Agricultural Marketing Authority and perhaps farmers’ unions such that they can give power back to the farmers in price determination for their produce?

On a slightly different but equally pertinent issue, it looks like farmers are beginning to witness and feel the negative side of technology use. I have witnessed in some districts private buyers buying animals in the absence of critical Government departments such as the veterinary service and the local authority.

These buyers then simply phone the Veterinary Department to state the number of animals they bought and send money through mobile money transfers and the movement permit is sent to them via WhatsApp. While this can be viewed as a step towards improving the ease of doing business but it should not be lost why such departments as the Veterinary Department were brought into the process of buying and selling livestock.

It was primarily to inspect for diseases in the animals that are being sold. This is even more relevant now because of the Foot and Mouth disease. Such an inspection cannot be done via WhatsApp and therefore technology cannot be allowed to substitute due diligence as the consequences can be disastrous and far reaching. In fact the police should help by prohibiting sales which are not attended by the Veterinary Department and local authorities.

The police can simply refuse to clear animals which are sold in the absence of such critical Government departments. It is statutory for local authorities to collect levies on animals being sold in their districts and the police cannot be seen to be facilitating evasion of taxes by the private buyers. Uyabonga umntakaMaKhumalo.

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