- The recent suspension of Swazi beef exports to the European Union (EU) is expected to exert further pressure on the Swaziland's weakening economy. Swaziland already suffers from disinterest from development partners due to the King's personal spending and the undemocratic governance.
Beef products were banned by the EU after Swaziland failed to produce the necessary paperwork needed to track the provenance of slaughtered cattle, including their inoculations.
The ban has dealt a severe blow to small herd owners at a critical time of year for cattle sales. "I must sell my cows now, while they are fat - winter is coming, and the grass gets scarce. My cows will be skin and bones, and worth much less by the time the paperwork is finished," said Samuel Dlamini, a farmer in rural Mliba in north central Swaziland.
For reasons still unknown to the public, cattle vaccination records are either incomplete or have been lost. Thus, food safety regulations in Europe make a continued import of Swazi beef impossible.
Swaziland enjoys a quota of beef sales to the EU, guaranteed under a bilateral treaty. After the ban came into effect local beef prices immediately fell by 14 percent, despite assurances from agricultural authorities that cattle unacceptable to the EU would be sold to neighbouring Mozambique and South Africa.
A spokesman for Swaziland Meat Industries, the country's main abattoir and point of origin for beef exports, said: "I want to stress that the product is not infected with diseases."
The abattoir, located in the Matsapha Industrial Estate outside Manzini, advised Swazi farmers to sell older cattle immediately. This is expected to give younger cattle a greater range of grazing, which diminishes during the dry winter months. More profitable cattle might then survive until the veterinary service's paperwork situation is rectified, the EU ban is lifted, and price normality is restored.
Cattle farmers like Mr Dlamini said they had no choice but to sell now, and would have to accept whatever they could get for animals, which they insisted had received full veterinary services and all the required medications, even if the record of that history had been lost.
Beef exports to Europe are becoming a major industry in Southern Africa. Especially countries like Botswana and Namibia - which have strict food quality controls following EU regulations - have seen commercial cattle raising becoming a major export industry. In Swaziland, quality control routines still remain poor, causing the current EU import ban. Swaziland, due to its current undemocratic regime however, not has received the same technical assistance as Botswana and Namibia to improve quality standards.
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