The availability of statistics, and in particular that applicable to herd size, herd composition and the number of animals slaughtered, pertaining to the large and small stock sector remains a problem since the abolishment of the Meat Board in 1997. Data published by the National Department of Agriculture is according to several experts in the red meat industry not an accurate reflection of the actual state of affairs in the industry.
With the aforementioned in mind this section attempts to provide a broad overview of the sector and is based on expert opinion obtained from several industry stakeholders. Cognisance needs therefore to be taken that the statistics presented is not necessarily an exact indication of for example herd numbers or slaughterings, but provides a broader scope of what is believed to be the current state of the industry. Industry stakeholders are currently in the process to work close together with the relevant government departments in an effort to rectify the poor state of statistics pertaining to the red meat industry.
It is believed that total cattle numbers in South Africa ranged from 13.6 to 13.8 million head over the past 5 years. Cognisance should be taken that the cattle sub-sector is highly dualistic. According to expert opinion 35 to 40 % of the total herd is owned by subsistence or emerging farmers, i.e. approximately 5.5 million animals. Research on several aspects of the emerging sector has shown that this sector has not reached its full potential. For example it is estimated that off-take in this sector varies between 7.5 % and 10 %, which is significantly lower that the estimated 25 % in the commercial sector. If the aforementioned assumptions hold, and it is assumed that total off-take goes for slaughtering then between 2.4 and 2.6 million cattle were slaughtered in South Africa annually over the last number of years.
Sheep numbers averaged about 25 million over a number of years with an estimated 13 % of animals in the subsistence and emerging sector; this is about 3 million lower than ten years ago. The main reasons provided for the drop in sheep numbers is stock theft, problems animals and vermin, i.e. the financial implication of the latter three reasons caused farmers to invest in other agricultural enterprises. Goat numbers are believed to be around 2.5 million. If the average off-take prior to deregulation is taken as a proxy for sheep and goat slaughterings then approximately 6.3 million sheep and goats were slaughtered annually over the past few years.
Both the consumption of large and small stock remained relatively stable, but firm over the past few years. Total beef consumption is believed to be approximately 640 000 tons and total sheep consumption approximately 160 000 tons. Per capita consumption for beef and sheep is respectively 13.5 and 3.4 kg; this is slightly up from the beginning of the century. Total beef and per capita consumption as reported by the National Department of Agriculture is significantly higher, but as indicated it is believed that this is an over estimation. An important observation is that the current figures on consumption indicates that the decline in total and per capita consumption has probably been reversed, but that much still needs to be done to ensure sustainable growth in consumption.
South Africa remains a net importer of products derived from large and small-stock. Imported meat from cattle averaged around 32 000 ton per year since 2003 (this includes meat from other SACU countries). Live imports from Namibia varied significantly, but on average imports totaled 170 000 annually since 2003. Sheep meat imports into South Africa average 50 000 tons annually since 2003. Cognisance should be taken that the introduction of the Namibian Small Stock Marketing Scheme had a significant impact on the number of live animals imported, i.e. since 2004 with the introduction of the Scheme live imports from Namibia nearly halved.
An important issue to take cognisance of within the South Africa socio-political-economic environment, is that the potential of the animals in the subsistence and emerging sub-sectors has not been unlocked.