South Africa should continuously improve its capacity for animal disease control

South Africa should continuously improve its capacity for animal disease control

With South Africa focused on expanding its red meat and livestock product exports, strengthening biosecurity is essential to this ambition. In part, the weaknesses in surveillance and control of the disease contributed to the spread of various animal diseases that South African farming businesses suffered in the past few years.

The temporary closure of certain export markets was costly to beef farmers and wool growers. The upside of the difficulty was the realization that the government and private sector must work collaboratively to enhance the country’s biosecurity system – the measures aimed at preventing disease spread.

This effort is now underway, and exports are also recovering. As we recently stated, in 2023, beef exports lifted by 3% year-on-year to 27 675 tonnes. In addition, South Africa’s wool exports increased by 18% year-on-year to 49 715 tonnes.

The opening of export markets is evidence of the country’s efforts to address animal health concerns. The deliberate marketing of livestock products to various growing export markets, such as China and Saudi Arabia, also added to this progress.

South Africa must apply more resources to strengthen livestock health in the coming years. This is vital for South Africa to remain a reliable supplier of red meat, wool, and other livestock products in the world market. What makes this more urgent is the frequent occurrences of animal diseases worldwide and the increased complexity of the diseases.

An April 12 report indicated that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and State veterinary and public health officials are studying an illness among dairy cows in various States . This comes after the H5N1 strain of avian influenza (bird flu), which commonly affects poultry farms, was discovered in dairy cows and the subsequent infection of a dairy farm employee.

There are rising concerns in the US about the subsequent transmission to humans and the two cases of human transmissions that have been detected. The scientists are currently studying this outbreak and have urged for calm amongst the consumers.

But outside the US, we don’t know of any cases where bird flu has transitioned into livestock and people. After noticing the news of this outbreak on April 12, we communicated with the leadership at South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development to understand if this matter is under monitoring and the country remains safe. Indeed, South Africa remains secure, and this issue is primarily in a couple of states in the US.

In conversations this week, the South African authorities again assured us that South Africa remains safe.

Positively, because South Africa has recently suffered the spread of animal disease, farming businesses and government officials arguably remain on high alert, which helps with surveillance in times of such high risk of animal diseases globally.

The frequent occurrences of animal diseases also imply that some countries, like South Africa in 2021 and 2022, will occasionally lose access to export markets while they work to clear the disease. During such times, the disease-free countries would potentially increase their volume of exports to markets.

South African red meat and livestock product exporters should always be alert to opportunistic export gaps. This is not a unique practice in South Africa; competitors typically increase their market presence when other suppliers are constrained.

In essence, animal diseases are increasingly a significant challenge globally. South Africa has undergone various cycles of foot and mouth disease in the cattle industry, multiple strains of avian influenza in poultry, and the African swine fever in the pig industry. All these episodes were costly to farming businesses and distracted South Africa from its export ambition.

We will likely continue seeing animal disease outbreak reports. Europe, Asia, and the Americas are some regions that typically report disease outbreaks. Therefore, South Africa must strengthen surveillance to ensure an agile response from regulators when there are outbreaks.

As part of the long-term planning, South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development should also increase its spending on animal health-related matters and build local capacity. This is essential to support the subsector, making up nearly half of South Africa’s agricultural economy.

The news of the US bird flu transmission to dairy and humans reminds us of animal disease risks and uncertainty. Fortunately, South Africa remains safe. Still, the farmers, feedlots, and regulators should remain vigilant. The consumer should not be concerned and should continue with typical purchases.

Follow me on Twitter (@WandileSihlobo). E-mail:

South Africa’s agricultural policy after the elections

South Africa’s agricultural policy after the elections

Recent electoral polls continue to suggest that no single political party will win an outright majority in South Africa’s 2024 national elections due to take place on 29 May. This creates uncertainty regarding the national government, which will emerge from any possible coalition discussions.

Regardless of its composition, the seventh administration of democratic South Africa may have to refresh its economic policies when it assumes office. For some sectors of the economy, such a review may be necessary. The global environment in which we operate has changed significantly in recent months, partly because of the rising geopolitical tensions and their associated economic risks.

Agricultural policy

In our view, agricultural policy does not require a review. The sector needs a sharper focus on implementing the existing programmes. The focus should be primarily on the execution of responsibilities of the various directorates at the national and provincial levels of the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development.

The agricultural sector has an ambitious and unifying vision through the Agriculture and Agro-processing Master Plan (AAMP) launched in May 2022. Indeed, the AAMP is imperfect, and some aspects were contested during its drafting stages. This is expected given the breadth of social partners involved in crafting it. Still, most social partners, such as the business community, government, and labour, agreed that the AAMP offers a framework to grow the agriculture and agro-processing sector, build competitiveness, attract more investment, improve inclusion, and create jobs. These prospects would help to address South Africa’s socioeconomic challenges, particularly in rural areas and small towns.

Moreover, the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) has signalled its intention to release the roughly 2,5 million hectares of land that is under the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS) to beneficiaries with title deeds. This land release will be through the yet-to-be-launched Land Reform and Agricultural Development Agency. The launch of this agency has taken longer than we anticipated. However, after informal discussions with the current leadership of the DALRRD, we believe that there is a commitment to the land release with title deeds to beneficiaries.

This land will help increase South Africa’s agricultural output across various commodities. Through the promise of this land release, the Bureau for Food and Agriculture Policy (BFAP) and ourselves continue to believe that South Africa’s agriculture could continue to grow and expand employment in the coming years.

Admittedly, amongst the industry and organized agriculture stakeholders, there has been growing anxiety about the slow pace of implementing the AAMP. The government and social partners finished the plan at a tricky time.

As the implementation process was set to start, various challenges took focus away from the AAMP. These include the persistent load-shedding in recent years, logistical constraints at ports, protectionism in export markets such as China (wool), EU (citrus), and Africa (vegetables), and the spread of animal disease (foot and mouth disease in cattle, African swine fever in pigs, and avian influenza in poultry). These events meant that the government and various industry stakeholders moved into “crisis” mode, and the attention shifted from the AAMP. Indeed, there has also been a lack of focus and interest in collaborating with businesses at a provincial level of the government, contributing to the slow implementation of the policies.

As is the case in South Africa with engagements between government and private sector engagements, political economy tensions often arise while resolving urgent and near-term issues, as we listed above. These tensions in political economy tend to strain trust and the collaborative vision, even temporarily. Such an environment is a rich breeding ground for slow action towards implementing the AAMP.

Moreover, we often hear from agribusiness leaders about the cold experience they receive from some provincial and local government offices that are instrumental to the success of the AAMP implementation. This is an area that the national government should focus on to ensure the alignment of vision and urgency with the adopted policies and programmes.

While we present the view that the appropriate policies and programmes for the next administration in South Africa’s agriculture need not change drastically, additional matters require nations’ focus that has weighed on sentiments in farming and agribusiness.

These include the ongoing El Niño induced drought that devastates the summer grains and oilseed regions, persistent port inefficiencies, poor rail and road infrastructure, and worsening municipal service delivery. Rising incidents of crime, lingering animal disease challenges, security of electricity supply and increased geopolitical uncertainty remain top-of-mind challenges for agribusinesses. In a survey we conducted in March 2024, covering businesses operating in all agricultural subsectors across South Africa, the respondents raised these are the most troubling issues they face.

Moreover, the one area that the South African government, working collaboratively with businesses, has seen success in opening the export markets for various products. The latest successes are the avocados in China, beef exports to Saudi Arabia, and grain exports to Egypt.

The effort of the government and industry to deal with the EU’s citrus export challenges through the WTO is another commendable step. From now on, widening the export markets should remain a priority for the South African government and organized agriculture. This is even more important in the current environment of the increasingly protectionist world, while South Africa is seeing an increase in production volumes of various products.

Exports would not be a success without an increased focus on logistics. The ongoing collaborative effort at the ports and rail should continue and extend to road infrastructure in the small towns where deteriorating roads have presented major costs and inefficiencies to agribusinesses.

Overall, we believe South Africa’s agricultural policy does not require a drastic change from now on, but it is better to focus on implementing current policies and programmes. The one aspect that should be an addition to the toolkit of the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development is continuous engagement and fruitful collaboration with industry stakeholders and organized agriculture.

A shorter version of this essay appeared on Business Day on 24 April 2024.

Follow me on Twitter (@WandileSihlobo). E-mail:

South Africa should continuously improve its capacity for animal disease control

South Africa’s red meat and wool exports are on path to recovery

The past two years presented major challenges for the SA livestock industry, especially the spread of foot-and-mouth disease and higher feed costs.

As farmers, feedlots and government worked to control the spread of foot-and-mouth, the effect on the revenues of farming businesses was deepening as they had to limit the movement of animals. Some export markets were temporarily closed.

In the case of the beef industry, in 2022 exports fell below the prior five-year average, totalling 26,881 tonnes, down 16% year on year, according to data from Trade Map. They recovered by 3% in 2023 to 27,675 tonnes.

Even as the beef industry confronted these challenges it had already resolved that widening the export market was the best way to catalyse long-term growth. Indeed, between 2017 and 2021 SA’s overall beef exports averaged 31,169 tonnes, notable progress compared with the average of 26,670 tonnes for the prior five years. In the five years before that, average exports were less than 15,000 tonnes. The spread of animal diseases threatened this export growth.

Between 2017 and 2021, exports comprised 49% fresh beef and 51% frozen beef, on average. The export markets were also diverse. For fresh beef, Kuwait, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Mozambique, Lesotho, Qatar, Zimbabwe, Mauritius and the Netherlands were the largest and most consistent markets.

Similar markets and new ones were at the top of the list for frozen beef. These included Lesotho, Mozambique, China, the UAE, Jordan, Egypt, the Netherlands, Qatar, Hong Kong and Kuwait.

Fortunately, while some regional markets were temporarily closed to SA red meat products, some remained open. Exports therefore did not collapse in 2022 and 2023, when animal disease was a major challenge.

This challenge was not limited to the cattle industry. Although the wool industry was not directly affected by foot-and-mouth, some export markets closed temporarily due to related concerns. China, which accounts for more than two-thirds of SA’s wool exports, temporarily closed for various periods in 2022 and 2023.

The effect of those temporary closures is visible in wool export volumes. In 2022, SA’s wool exports fell 19% year on year to 42,239 tonnes. The major decline in volume was in the Chinese market.

Safety measures

Fortunately, engagements between the SA and Chinese authorities to reassure them of the safety measures in place to ensure there would be no spread of disease led to the resumption of exports. SA’s wool exports in 2023 recovered 18% year on year to 49,715 tonnes.

The higher feed costs were a factor outside the control of farmers and regulators. This was not unique to SA but a global phenomenon. The rise in Chinese demand for grains, coupled with drought in South America, higher shipping costs and the Russia-Ukraine war were major drivers of grain prices over the past two years. SA is interlinked with the global market, so the rise in international grain prices was felt here too.

There is also a transformation and inclusivity agenda in the performance of the wool and beef industries. These industries are among the agricultural subsectors with a large share of new-entrant black farmers. Therefore, the financial strain of the past few years might have disrupted progress stakeholders were making in the transformation drive in these industries. National Agricultural Marketing Council data shows that black farmers account for roughly 18%, 13% and 34% of wool, mohair and cattle production, respectively.

Livestock is a key part of the SA agricultural economy, accounting for nearly half of the gross value added when combined with the poultry and piggery industries. The past two years were certainly challenging for the SA livestock industry. Fortunately, the path forward is looking more promising and exports are recovering.

Written for and first appeared on Business Day.

Follow me on Twitter (@WandileSihlobo). E-mail:

Animal diseases are a global concern

Animal diseases are a global concern

Animal diseases are increasingly a significant concern globally. In 2018, China was hard hit by the African swine fever, significantly reducing their pig herd and pork supplies. In Europe, we continue to read about cases of avian influenza. In the U.S., we also regularly see cases of bird flu, which is now a significant issue.

The situation, however, has gotten tricky in the U.S. Earlier today, the excellent researcher and analyst Anthony Clark of SmallTalkDaily Research, in a note to clients, flagged something I was not watching, and here I quote a report from the World  Organisation for Animal Health:

The ongoing spread of High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (HPAI) in different regions of the world, alongside the recent detections of cases in cattle, is raising concerns within the international community.


While HPAI primarily affects poultry and wild birds, avian influenza can occasionally be transmitted to mammals, including humans. In the last two years, an increasing number of H5N1 avian influenza cases have been reported in terrestrial and aquatic mammalians animals.


The recently reported detections of HPAI   in dairy cattle in the United States of America, showing clinical signs such as decreased lactation, reduced appetite, lethargy, fever and dehydration, have raised concerns since such infections of cattle could indicate an increased risk of H5N1 viruses becoming better adapted to mammals, and potentially spilling over to humans and other livestock.”

This bird flu is worrying and worth monitoring. Fortunately, this is not an issue in South Africa. Therefore, there is no need to panic. The agricultural community can monitor the situation in the U.S. and continue to stay vigilant and adhere to best biosecurity practices, as is often the case in commercial farming in South Africa.

South Africa’s challenge

Over the past few years, we have had a fair share of animal disease challenges here in South Africa—African swine fever in pigs, avian influenza in poultry, and Foot-and-Mouth Disease in cattle.

These had heavy financial losses on the producers and various companies. But I believe we are on a path to recovery from the recent outbreaks as a country. The industry is also increasing meat supplies. Thus, the meat prices have generally been sideways this year if one looks at their local supermarket.

Our focus is now on regaining our export market and penetrating new and exciting countries this year. This export drive is mainly in the South African beef industry. We aim to increase the exports to new markets such as Saudi Arabia and China.

In this export journey, strengthening our biosecurity system remains a priority for the private sector and government as more concerning outbreaks continue in certain parts of the world.

South African consumer safety

With all this animal disease talk in the U.S., I must stress that the South African consumer is safe, and you can continue to enjoy our various high-quality proteins.

Stringent controls also ensure consumer safety even during outbreaks. We are not currently in the middle of an epidemic.

I write more about some of these issues in my Business Day column on April 10, 2024. When it is published, you will find it online here.

Follow me on Twitter (@WandileSihlobo). E-mail:

The government’s support for farmers is critical in times of drought

The government’s support for farmers is critical in times of drought

The “do-nothingism” policy proposal I put forward (here) in response to this drought in South Africa does not necessarily mean a complete inaction by the government. It primarily refers to a need to practice restraint from major policy interventions such as grain export bans, price caps and panic importation.

The leadership at the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development is concerned about the impact of the drought on farmers. They are exploring various approaches to support small, medium and large farmers.

There are financial losses in regions where there is significant crop loss.

So, “do-nothingism” refers to a need for restraint from the current policy path while exploring ways to support the negatively affected farmers where financial resources permit.

This approach will ensure continuous production in the next season and the long-term sustainability of our agricultural sector and food security.

Follow me on Twitter (@WandileSihlobo). E-mail:

Why has implementing the Agriculture and Agro-processing Master Plan been so slow?

Why has implementing the Agriculture and Agro-processing Master Plan been so slow?

As we are fast approaching the two year anniversary of South Africa’s Agriculture and Agro-processing Masterplan (AAMP), there is very little to show for in terms of implementation on the ground.

A series of compounding crises has seized the attention of government and inadvertently led to a minimal implementation of various critical plans and policies. Public and private sector attention has entirely  shifted to resolving persistent load-shedding, logistical constraints at ports, protectionism in export markets, animal diseases, and the spread of animal disease.

These events meant that the government and various industry stakeholders moved into “crisis” mode, and the attention shifted from the AAMP and its promise for growth in the sector to addressing serious structural challenges that are hampering growth. The political economy tensions that often arise between industry role-players and government while resolving these urgent and near-term issues have further strained trust and the collaborative vision.

Add all these problems to the age-long reasons for lack implementation – namely, corruption, lack of focus, and lack of capacity – and you have a perfect storm of stagnation and stalled progress in actioning the AAMP.

It doesn’t help that the general elections are just around the corner, and peak election season sees the political leadership is devoting more time to campaigns geared towards winning another election bid. None of the above aspects have much to do with the AAMP, and if at all, the action plan is nothing more than a footnote in any serious policy or political discussion.

Why is the AAMP essential?

The AAMP should be implemented as it offers the government and the private sector a framework to grow the sector, build competitiveness, attract more investment, improve inclusion, and create jobs.

These bold prospects directly address South Africa’s social challenges, such as rising poverty, low economic growth, and high unemployment. Each party involved in the AAMP has a bigger mission of resolving these broad societal challenges through relentless work in their businesses.

The AAMP is rooted in evidence-based research that outlines the possibilities for growth and the current growth-inhibiting factors. For example, growth constraints such as biosecurity, infrastructure, widening of export markets, registration of new crop protection chemicals, and various commodity-specific and regionalized plans are some of the aspects that the AAMP aimed to address.

These were to be tackled simultaneously with managing the financial needs in the sector, specifically for new entrant farmers through the blended finance instrument, and the land needs for expansion through the yet-to-be-launched Land Reform and Agricultural Development Agency that was mentioned several times in the State of the Nation Address (SONA) by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The promise of these bold reforms in South Africa’s agricultural economy led to estimates that the gross value added to the sector could expand by over 15% in the following decade.

Disappointingly, the AAMP vision that excited most role-players in the agricultural sector is beginning to wane. Various challenges took focus away from the implementation of the AAMP, such as persistent load-shedding at the start of the year, logistical constraints at ports, protectionism in export markets, and the spread of animal disease.

What should the government and private sector leadership do?

Still, given the importance of this developmental and progressive plan for the sector, leadership is needed across all stakeholders to realign and rekindle the AAMP’s vision and outline steps for implementation. Therefore, implementation and operational planning are critical across various levels of government, mainly provincial and municipal governments, to ensure alignment and coherence in policy implementation.

Failure to operationalize the AAMP will be tragic for the agricultural sector and create a precedent of premature abandonment of yet another well-conceived plan that was never fully implemented.

Further negative implications will emerge – a damaging loss of confidence in the government and questions regarding the state’s credibility, competence and capability to implement government mandates. The loss of trust will imply that any other plan in the future will not receive the seriousness and commitment it deserves.

What must be done?

The first step should be geared towards designing implementation and operational modalities where each role-player has a sense of ownership, responsibility, and clarity about the steps they must take to see the AAMP through. The DALRRD will be at the centre of this process to lead the way, with the support of the private sector.

Notably, the DALRRD should have a dedicated desk that is fully staffed and focused mainly on AAMP implementation matters and stakeholder engagements. These personnel should not be dragged into “crisis” issues or other programmes that the government views as urgent but spend their time mainly on AAMP matters.

Follow me on Twitter (@WandileSihlobo). E-mail:

Farmers Discontents

Farmers Discontents

There is a growing sense of unhappiness amongst farmers globally. In Europe, protests against stringent environmental laws, calls for protectionism against imports, and increased producer support are some of the issues farmers continue to highlight.

We now see news of protests in India where farmers demand guaranteed crop prices and increased government support.

These events are far from us in South Africa but have relevance.

The big win for farmers in the EU so far was the agreement by lawmakers to review the environmental policy – with the “Farm to Fork Strategy” — aimed at reducing the use of chemicals and fertilisers, which threaten farmers’ productivity.

These production changes applied not only to EU farmers but also to trading partners such as South Africa. The EU is the second most important market for South Africa’s agricultural products, accounting for 27% of the country’s total agricultural exports. So we welcome the news of a review of the environmental laws.

Still, the rising talk about a need for protectionism in crucial agricultural export markets for South Africa is worrying. We see this reality in the EU. We continue to watch developments in India — hopefully, one won’t see such sentiment of protectionism becoming part of these protests.

South Africa’s agriculture has yet to have a strong presence in India. However, we aim to expand our agricultural footprint there, deepening the relationship in BRICS+ beyond a political ambition to deeper trade engagement in the coming years.

Various member countries widely shared this optimistic sentiment in the BRICS Business Council’s Agribusiness Working Group in 2023. (I chaired the global engagements in this working group in 2023. Russia leads us this year, and I currently chair the Working Group on Agribusiness).

Follow me on Twitter (@WandileSihlobo). E-mail:

Here is why the EU farms’ protests have relevance in South Africa

Here is why the EU farms’ protests have relevance in South Africa

As the farmers’ protests continue in various regions of Europe, the primary question on the minds of South African agriculturalists is what implications, if any, these will have on local production and exports.

According to various media reports, the protests mainly centre on the declining EU’s agricultural subsidies, the environmental policy to reduce chemicals and fertilizer use, and the need for protection against imports.

Whether or not the farmers are correct in raising their dissatisfaction about the EU’s policies on these areas is a point of much discussion. But it is worth emphasizing that these events and the policy outcome in response to them will matter for South Africa’s agriculture in two ways.

First, South Africa’s agricultural sector is strongly linked with the European Union (EU) through trade. The region is South Africa’s second most important market for South Africa’s agricultural products, accounting for 27% of the country’s total agricultural exports, according to data from Trade Map.

The EU and the rest of the world seek to implement urgent policy measures to combat the effects of climate change. In its 2030 climate target plan, the EU aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% from 1990 levels. To that end, the EU has crafted the “Farm to Fork Strategy“, a new approach that ensures that agriculture, fisheries, and the entire food system effectively contribute to achieving this target.

The strategy seeks to ensure that farmers produce sustainably by setting targets that reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides and revising legislation regarding feed additives and animal welfare.

But these production changes will not only apply to EU farmers, but  trading partners like South Africa as well. Hence, monitoring whether the farmers’ protests make a dent in persuading EU lawmakers to adjust these regulations is vital for South African agricultural exporters.

From a South African perspective, sustainable agricultural practice is cause worthy of our collective support, and various farmers domestically are pursuing better production methods to ensure soil and environmental health.

To that end, attaining a balance between agro-chemical use and productivity in pursuit of environmental sustainability is critical. In that sense, a drastic reduction of agrochemicals use and fertilizers is not ideal as that would negatively impact the harvest quality and output. Hence, a reasonable transition under the framework of a moderate approach with feasible timelines, which EU farmers are advocating for, is worth supporting.

Such a reasonable outcome would imply that the EU’s trading partners do not have to significantly reduce agrochemicals and fertilizer use to lower productivity levels. This would also ensure that trade between South Africa and the EU continues on the current terms.

Second, there seems to be a growing protectionist sentiment among the various protesting farmers, arguing that EU lawmakers should consider protecting the farmers against unfair world competition. South Africa worries about this particular line of argument as an export-oriented sector with strong links with the EU. The South African agricultural sector has faced various protectionist tendencies in the EU market, particularly in citrus. For example, the EU recently used non-tariff barriers by alleging a “False codling moth“, a citrus pest, in South Africa and requiring that citrus products be kept at certain temperatures before accessing the EU market.

This happens while South Africa has already treated the products to eliminate the chances of such pest occurrence. This was a subtle form of protecting the Spanish farmers, who are also major citrus producers within the EU market.

With an outright view from farmer groupings in the EU that they face unfair competition in the global agricultural market, we worry that using various non-tariff barriers may be common.

The aspect of subsidies that the EU farmers also argued for is perhaps not mainly on top of mind for a South African farmer. Over nearly three decades, the South African agricultural sector has had to grow and be globally competitive with minimal government producer support relative to the EU and the US. The key aspects currently relevant for South Africa are matters pertaining to trade, which are environmental policies and the talk of unfair trade policies.

Overall, the outcomes of the EU farm protests will be consequential to South Africa, mainly the fruit, wine and beef industries with a specific interest in deepening trade with the EU region.

More importantly, the environmental laws in the EU, because of the importance and influence of the area in the world, will likely be applied in other regions over time. Such development would have notable implications for the exporting nations, again illustrating the importance and relevance of the ongoing developments in the EU.

Beyond the EU challenges, what we observe today – rising tension within regions and countries and amongst regions and countries – implies that each country must always seek to diversify its markets.

South Africa’s primary reliance on the EU region is one such risk, so exploring markets such as China, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, India, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, the Philippines, and Bangladesh is always essential. Notably, such market expansion should coincide with maintaining the EU market access – it remains vital and strategic to South Africa’s agriculture.

Follow me on Twitter (@WandileSihlobo). E-mail:

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This