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Tanzania: Disease and lack of grazing land hamper access to export markets for livestock farmers

It’s 10 a.m., the sky is bright, and the weather is clear. Chui Meja is keenly observing his cattle, sheep, and goats as he releases them from their sheds to graze. The 39-year-old wears brown trousers and a traditional red Maasai shawl.

Mr. Meja says he can’t export his livestock and animal products because of challenges related to diseases and inadequate pasture.

He explains: “Most of my animals are skinny because of [the] long distances they travel while looking for pasture and water. I can even count their ribs, and most of them cannot qualify for slaughter. Some have diseases like East Coast Fever. It is hard to sell them [for export].”

Mr. Meja currently lives in Kitonga village, about 90 kilometres from Dar es Salaam, the commercial hub of Tanzania.

To deal with these challenges, he has wandered with his family for three decades across Tanzania in search of water, pasture, and areas that are free from livestock disease.

He says the family is suffering as they move because of their inability to sell livestock to export markets. Because of inadequate feed, Mr. Meja’s animals are weaker and look older. The export markets require good quality meat and livestock products.

Engelbert Billashoboka is the Central Zone manager at the Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority. He agrees with Mr. Meja that livestock farmers can’t take advantage of export markets because of diseases and poor feeding. This is despite the fact that Tanzania is the third largest cattle producer in Africa.

Mr. Billashoboka explains: “Most herders, particularly nomads, who are the largest livestock keepers in Tanzania, do not have adequate rangelands. They also lack proper and modern programs to feed their herds.”

He adds, “The animals depend entirely on grazing without supplements. This is why they take a long time to attain slaughter weight. As a result, beef products hardly fetch the export markets.”

Nomadic pastoralists sell their animals in open markets to buyers from local beef processors, or buyers from Comoros, Kenya, DRC, and even the Arab Emirates.

Nicholai Chiweka is the marketing and research officer at the Tanzania Meat Board. He says the difficulty with selling livestock and animal products on the export market is partly due to lack of pasture development and fattening programs. Because of the nomadic style of herding, most of the animals are not heavy enough for the export market. To qualify for export, they would need an intensive feeding program before slaughter.

In Tanzania, many of the rangelands that supported the most cattle were close to national game reserves such as Manyara, Serengeti, Loliondo, and Ngorongoro. In order to protect wild animals, the government converted most of these rangelands to game reserves and wildlife protection areas. The hope is that the government will plan, demarcate, and develop rangelands for pasture to make up for the land that was converted for conservation purposes.

Faustin Lekule is a professor at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania. He says that, for farmers like Mr. Meja to benefit financially from livestock farming, there is a need to create disease-free areas, improve slaughterhouses, and start processing livestock products.

Mr. Lekule explains: “Since we cannot make the whole country disease-free, it is necessary to designate some specific areas—or islands—where special attention should be made to certify the area as a disease-free zone.”

He adds: “Tanzania has to improve standards of key abattoirs (slaughterhouses) which will be certified by international bodies and be allowed to export meat and meat products. Instead of selling meat as beef, we should put more effort on processing…. There is a huge market in China and the Middle East for meat products.”

Mr. Meja says he will continue to move from place to place in order to find good grazing land that is free from disease. He explains, “We have spent our entire life moving with our herds. It is not our choice [but] we have to. We are continuing looking for grazing land and livestock disease-free zones.”

This resource is supported by Elanco Animal Health.