Meat and markets: Can a global trade in livestock deliver southern Africa out of poverty?

Economic growth and employment

Ian Scoones, Professorial Fellow at IDS and Co-Director of the STEPS Centre, explained: ‘The idea seems simple. Africa has significant comparative advantage in a range of important commodities with global demand. The growth of such industries can in turn generate economic growth and employment, and this will in turn reduce poverty.

‘With extensive grazing, numerous animals and a long tradition of trade in meat to Europe supported by various agreements, surely southern Africa should focus on the global beef trade to generate growth and reduce poverty?’

The STEPS Centre research explored the economic, social and political trade-offs arising from different scenarios for gaining market access and managing and controlling foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in support of beef production in southern Africa. It showed that there are numerous obstacles to global livestock trade as a route out of poverty.

Barriers to market entry

Professor Scoones said: ‘Growing competition from other parts of the world combine with ever-increasing standards which act as barriers to entry to markets. Requirements for “disease freedom” in particular constrain options dramatically when diseases such as FMD are endemic. Subsidies which once kept the industry going and facilitated trade flow have declined and the economics of ranch-based beef production looks shaky compared to other options such as wildlife utilisation.’

These findings are summarised in a recent paper, with the results commented on by an expert panel of researchers, policymakers and industry players.

Following an examination of the new contexts of livestock disease dynamics and trade in southern Africa, the paper explores a series of scenarios for market access, including trade with the European Union, direct exports to large retailers, export to emerging markets (particularly Asia), regional trade in southern Africa, and domestic urban and rural markets.

The paper concludes that:

  • A commodity-based trade approach makes sense as a route to safe trade.
  • Concentrating on growing domestic and regional markets offers the greatest opportunities.

Such options, it is concluded, offer the most likely route to poverty-reducing trade in southern Africa and beyond.

The STEPS Centre is an interdisciplinary global research and policy engagement hub that unites development studies with science and technology studies. It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.