Sustainability of the South African Livestock Sector towards 2050. Part 2: Challenges, changes and required implementations

Author: H.H. Meissner, M.M. Scholtz & F.A. Engelbrecht
Year: 2013
Issue: 3
Volume: 43
Page: 298 - 319

Challenges facing the livestock sector towards 2050 and the changes and management considerations required to maintain sustainability are discussed. Major challenges are associated with climate change and the environmental impact of the sector. Southern Africa is predicted to become drier and the average temperature may rise by 1.5 ºC to 2 ºC. Livestock CH4 emissions are 1330 Gg/year, with enteric fermentation contributing 95%. For commercial production of beef and milk, CH4 estimates are at the upper half of life cycle assessments of 14 – 32 kg CO2 e/kg beef and 0.84 – 1.4 kg CO2 e/kg milk recorded for developed countries. The water footprint depends on production system and efficiency. Global and South African water use estimates for red meat production vary from 80 to 540 L/kg meat. In dairy plants the water usage to process the same product may vary by more than 100%, suggesting scope for improvement. Although animal welfare in South Africa is supported by the Livestock Welfare Coordinating Committee and adherence codes, humane treatment of animals is more difficult to maintain in intensively-housed production systems. Livestock production in communal and small scale sectors requires rapid commercialisation to relieve poverty and contribute to gross domestic product. This requires partnerships, major inputs and paradigm shifts. Input costs including labour increase faster than commodity prices, the concern with labour costs being the impact on employment rates. Efficiency of production should be on par with competitors if the livestock sector is to compete on domestic and export markets. The poultry industry is on par, but rising feed costs, disease and subsidized imports are major concerns. Efficiency in the other industries as measured by off-take percentage is generally lower than competitors, a major reason being lower reproductive rates. In this context, the amount of feed, water and CH4/kg beef can be reduced by more than 20% if calving rate increases by 20 percentage points. Effective management of rangeland is critical, even more so because of climate change. Livestock production is only marginally competitive and therefore vulnerable to deregulation and trade liberalization. To increase competitiveness exports should increase markedly. For participation in world trade, controlled and notifiable diseases remain a risk. Associated risks are zoonosis and microbial resistance to antibiotics. Stock theft and predation are major concerns. Farmers should employ bio-security measures to ensure the supply of safe products to the consumer. Government and the livestock industries will have to show a clear and strong commitment to address the challenges and opportunities to ensure sustainability of the livestock sector.

Keywords: animal welfare, Challenges, commercialization, consumer, Efficiency, environmental impact, health, input costs, markets, predation, rangeland, theft
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