Picture: THEO JEPTHA/Daily Dispatch
Picture: THEO JEPTHA/Daily Dispatch

SA could lose up to $140m (R2.02bn) in 2020 as countries in the region and elsewhere hold back on importing its beef due to a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.

The disease, which was reported in 2019, remains a key challenge for SA with a ban of exports of animal products set to hit farmers hard amid worsening drought conditions.

According to the Agriculture Business Chamber (Agbiz), an organisation that represents commercial farmers and agribusiness, apart from the beef exports the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak of early 2019 has extended to sectors such as the wool industry.  

The foot-and-mouth disease outbreak, which was reported in 2019, remains a key challenge for SA with a ban of exports of animal products set to hit farmers hard amid worsening drought conditions.

The agricultural sector is a crucial pillar of SA's economy with the country exporting roughly 49% of its agricultural products in value terms.

China, which imports on average 71% of SA’s wool, imposed a ban for months, which weighed on the industry. The wool sector’s exports are worth twice that of beef in value terms, averaging $308m over the past five years and all this was at risk during the ban.

Foot-and-mouth disease broke out in Limpopo in 2019, resulting in the World Organisation for Animal Health temporarily suspending SA’s disease-free zone status. Neighbouring countries including Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, eSwatini and Mozambique announced a ban on SA meat imports pending the containment of the disease.

Foot-and-mouth can infect people through skin wounds or the mucous membranes in the mouth after handling infected stock, or by drinking infected milk. But it is not introduced by eating meat from infected animals. Generally, infection of humans is temporary and is not considered a major public health hazard.

In his first weekly update for 2020, Agribiz head of agribusiness research Wandile Sihlobo noted that government and private sector players will be engaging in the coming weeks to find a workable solution to the foot-and-mouth challenge. He said seeing that foot-and-mouth disease is again a challenge in 2020, SA’s meat prices could remain subdued for the greater part of the year.

In 2019, the government placed a ban on cattle auctions in the country as a way to limit livestock movement, a move which some in the agriculture sector oppose. On Monday, the DA said it welcomed the decision by a group of at least 50 emerging farmers to take legal action to force agriculture, land reform and rural development minister Thoko Didiza to lift the nationwide ban on livestock gathering and auctions.  

The matter is due to be heard in the North Gauteng High Court on Tuesday.

“The DA has consistently called on minister Didiza to lift this moratorium on nonaffected areas and deal decisively with FMD [foot-and-mouth] outbreak as per the World Organization for Animal Health guidelines,” DA MP Noko Masipa said.

“It is unfortunate that amid a national drought, farmers are now being forced to go to court to ensure they can conduct ordinary business of trading livestock,” Masipa said.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za