The Passing of a Matriarch


By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XIOur fleeting exchanges with nature allow us to reflect on how we handle the real world, but sometimes we are jolted into a sense of reality when nature turns on itself. A short while ago I was privileged to spend yet another period in Mana Pools and be with the wild. For a few years now, I have been an occasional observer of the most amazing union between the ‘grandmother’ lioness of Mana Pools and her issue, a healthy lioness we shall refer to as the ‘daughter’.

Incredibly, the older lioness has survived these last few years almost entirely due to the presence of her offspring despite the duo being ostracised by the main prides of the park. The old girl was toothless, incapable of hunting, and reliant on the younger animal. It is estimated the old girl is about 16 years of age. Each visit there is a mission to find this couple, a personal charge in a way, to be sure the old girl is all right.

Grandma Lioness_2013_06_02_9122_768x474px

Occasionally there are additions to this mini pride, in the form of cubs, usually two, and it is delightful to spend time with them, if one can. Last year there was a single surviving cub, named Bertie. Sadly, the record of survival for cubs is slim. While the dominant males from the main prides sire these cubs, they become easily victim to a nasty trait in paternal males and other predators in the park.

On my recent arrival at my normal ‘digs’ in the park, Goliath Safaris, I was told that the old girl had last been sighted a couple of days back, but that she had been deserted by the daughter. In all probability the grandmother would have succumbed by then. Saddened by this news, the days that followed were spent mostly on lion spoor, looking for a pride we know as the ‘Spice Girls’, or the males, ‘The Backstreet Boys’, ever hopeful we would stumble upon the tracks of the grandmother and daughter.

Our first encounter with the pride was a small hunting group, a skittish bunch of young males and a female, but they didn’t stick around to greet us. In fact we had little chance with a young bull elephant seemingly chasing them off his patch. A little later in the day, approaching noon, we received a report of a sighting of the old girl. Excited and eager, we trekked to the approximate location and set off looking for more spoor, but no sign was found. We had been given poor directions.

While travelling back to camp for our siesta, we were blessed with an accidental sighting of the old girl from the vehicle, quite near where we had seen that flighty pride on the hunt. We stopped and moved in on foot to observe her. The old girl had aged so much since last seeing her… she was definitely on her last legs, thin, bone structure protruding, exhausted; just wanting to lay peacefully and die. She offered us a permeating growl, akin to the purr of a Harley Davidson, but was really quite disinterested with the invasion of her space. No sign of the daughter or any cubs was apparent.

Astonishingly, there lay nearby the lioness a carcass of a dead honey badger, a ferocious little beast which would never have been easy prey and which, clearly, the old girl had neither hunted nor killed. Was this an opportunity discovery? Not likely, scavengers abound here. Then, how did the old girl manage to acquire this food? Did that jumpy hunting pride leave her with this food? We’ll never know, but I would like to think they did.

We sat a short distance from her, tolerating the occasional soft roar and growl… I know the others, like me, were silently bidding the old matriarch farewell; her survival was numbered in hours rather than days… a few tears were scuffed away. So strange how we build such compassion for these beasts, which would happily rip us apart in their prime, but we do. There is a telepathy of acknowledgement; almost a psychic inner feeling between man and beast. We slowly, yet sadly, withdrew… this was our last sighting of the grand old lady of Mana.

A few days later, we had stumbled across a large pack of wild dogs and spend time with them, photographing the pack and individuals… our sojourn was interrupted by a large lioness moving through the area, in the late afternoon, offering a deep penetrating calls which would be heard for miles, perhaps seeking other members of the pride.

The dogs moved defensively towards her in a large pack and we followed some distance behind. The solitary lioness broke into an opening and showed herself. It was the ‘daughter’ without doubt! We will never know if she was calling for her mother or perhaps already mourning her loss, but clearly she is alone now. There was no sign of Bertie. The dogs retreated as if offering respect.

There is no confirmation of the old girl’s passing, I pray it was peaceful. Hopefully the daughter will integrate back into the main-steam prides of Mana and continue her normal life, else her own survival will be brief. Her fascinating dedication to the upkeep of her mother, against many harsh odds, is a truly wonderful and exceptional demonstration of the human-like love and bonding that all we know so well.

Rest in Peace old lady of Mana.

Plagiarism: Curse of the Artist


By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XIThere is a lot of photo plagiarism going on in social media forums. Photographers really need to understand the risks and, perhaps,  if they display their work, accept that this is the nouveau way. Or should they? People will steal your work and use it to bask in a new found glory; a showing off of a supposedly new talent, which they never really had.  They might even making money from your work. They follow in the footstep of the music pirates… everyone seems to be doing it, so maybe it must be right. It is not! Simply put, it is the theft or filching of one’s intellectual property, and most often an infringement of the author’s copyright.

According to the plagiarism dot org web site the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary the term “plagiarize” means:

to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own; to use (another’s production) without crediting the source; to commit literary theft; to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.

While perhaps flattering to the photographer, only in a way, just too many people seem to be content to share or purloin the work of others. They often do so in their own name, by simply failing to credit original authors. They are part of an unfortunate sect who, clearly, are unable create their own content and who can only fail to bring new and original material to the social media platforms. They would if they could, but social media almost dictates that these poor people must post something to at least become acknowledged or ‘expert’ and, hence, well known, if not popular. They are doing this on the backs of credible authors and originators. Social media never intended that this be done on the wicked altar of plagiarism and theft.

Photography is never the simple click of a shutter button… there is so much more to it. Your average photographers will have invested heavily in learning their craft and in acquiring their equipment. They will have expended time and money to get on location for the shoot, and then taken frame after frame until they get it right. A good photographer will admit to a ratio of one brilliant image in possibly a thousand… hitting the photographic sweet spot just once in as many minutes, if not hours of dedicated photography.

Yet some hapless soles, devoid of creativity and capacity to originate, will spend just seconds copying your work and passing it on as their own. Some will destroy a perfectly good image with crudely styled motivational messages, often plagiarized too, and then offer the work as their own, shamelessly oblivious of their destructive prowess. No reference is made to the original author, the source of the material stolen, nor any consideration given to copyright. Some go so far as to rub out obvious copyright notices.

Digital photography has led to an explosion of graphic material on the internet. This is healthy. It allows the photographer to share his or her work and the viewer or beholder to marvel, enjoy and make recollections which are pleasing to the heart. Most photographers see the power of the internet to allow exposure of their work, and often this leads to commercial considerations. This is all very honorable, until somebody decides to claim the image as his or her own for gratuitous purposes or profit.

Photographers understand the ethics when handling the work of others. It is simple. Credit the original artist if you can, and almost certainly credit the source of the material. To not do so infers you are passing the work on as your own, that is, stealing.  There is just too much ignorance being demonstrated by offenders.  Almost without exception stealing is a crime across the globe and ignorance is no defense. Surely, it is time the social media networks came to understand this and take action against offenders who pursue this filthy crime. The are all providing the platform.  Plagiarists should also learn to understand.

You can help… there is a petition to be signed and you could join a social media group in support of this campaign.

Visit Andrew’s Simply Wild Photography photo blog… you will not regret doing so!

Mana Pools: Constitutional Protection of the Environment


By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XIThe proposed Zimbabwean Constitution has specific reference to environmental rights in a clause that will give every person a right to an environment that is not harmful to health or well-being. Every Zimbabwean has the right to the environment being protected for the benefit of present and future generations.

The Constitution proposes that measures be taken to: prevent pollution and ecological degradation; promote conservation; and secure ecologically sustainable development. This is music in the ears for some, but perhaps it does not go far enough. Mere measures to protect our natural heritage, the flora, and all creatures great and small are not exactly a right. It should be. Things other than humans should have rights. Humans seem not to be bequeathed the right to the protection of their national heritage either.

Could you imagine a new, say fundamentalist, regime coming into power, which, in its wisdom decides that the Great Zimbabwe was never constructed by the indigenous people after all, but rather by some foreigners from the east or the north who had come to take our gold, ivory and reap the nation of its people for enforced slavery, back in the 11th Century. They decide in this realisation and in their moment of new found glory that the monument of the Great Zimbabwe should be levelled to the ground and destroyed. As ludicrous as that may seem, the origins of this national edifice are still not substantially agreed. Great Zimbabwe is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Something similar to this is actually happening in Mali right now. Sites, previously declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO are now being desecrated by religious fundamentalists who wield the power of the gun. Islamists, supposedly connected with Al Queda, who grabbed control of Northern Mali, including Timbuktu, believe centuries old shrines are idolatrous and have already destroyed seven mausoleums. The politicians of the day, whatever their cause, have effectively destroyed some of the national heritage in Timbuktu belonging to the people of Mali. It is of course an absolute disgrace.

Zimbabwe is blessed with five World Heritage Sites, three of them cultural and two of them natural. They are, in addition to Great Zimbabwe National Monument: the Khami Ruins National Monument; Matobo Hills; Mana Pools National Park, Sapi and Chewore Safari areas; and the great Mosi-ao-Tunya (or Victoria Falls). One wonders, of course, just how much protection these sites have in the face of radical politics or greedy commerce.

The authors of the proposed constitution have certainly made provisions, but they are diluted. For example, all state institutions and every citizen must endeavour to preserve and protect Zimbabwe’s heritage. Alas, both institutions and citizens are susceptible to the seven deadly sins, particularly where a regime rules with impunity to the rule of law. Many will say we have been there and some elements of government still pursue the rotten ethos.

Traditional leaders have a duty to preserve their culture, traditions, history and heritage. One might ask if in fact this obligation is somewhat adulterated, since the chiefs have mostly fallen in with the more gratuitous party’s gravy train. The risk is that only a one-sided culture, history and heritage will remain intact, with the destruction of that which is against the grain of current party philosophy, much like the happenings in Timbuktu.

Today, some citizens of Zimbabwe, perhaps aided and assisted by those in politics, seem to be out of sync with the good intentions of the proposed constitution already. They aim to satisfy their apparent commercial greed and gluttony (the type which allows one mining magnate to buy up numerous multi-million dollar properties south of the Limpopo) in desecrating a World Heritage Site, Mana Pools National Park, Sapi and Chewore Safari areas. They intend to do open cast mining of two river lines through the area. This seriously threatens our national and natural heritage.

Our would-be mining moguls seem oblivious, with their poor intentions, to their moral obligations they have to the citizens of Zimbabwe, the nation and the World at large. Perhaps this band of merry diggers should take stock of what they propose to do and relate this to the environmental needs of present and future generations. They should call it a day… if they are allowed to pursue their objectives no one can say where it will all end. There are many sandy riverbeds in Zimbabwe.

You can help… there is a petition to be signed and you could join a social media group in support of this campaign.

Visit Andrew’s Simply Wild Photography photo blog… you will not regret doing so!

Zambezi Valley Eco-System Threatened by Mining


By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XIConservationists are up in arms, again, and quite rightly so. The latest gambit is that of the intended prospecting and exploration for heavy mineral sand deposits (HMSD) of two rivers: the Rukomechi River, along the western boundary of Mana Pools National Park and the Chewore River, along the eastern boundary of the Sapi Safari area. Both of these rivers are tributaries to the great Zambezi River and wind across the Zambezi Valley which is within the declared UNESCO Middle Zambezi Biosphere Reserve. Mana Pools is a UNESCO World Heritage site, yet mining magnets are just about to rip it apart.

There is a long history of environmental activism opposed to mineral sands mining and for good reason too. Heavy mineral sands are referred to as a class of ore deposits yielding minerals such as zirconium, titanium, thorium, and tungsten; not to mention diamonds and other gems. Precious metals may also be harvested and, with alluvial gold being not uncommon in the Highveld to the south, perhaps this is their ugly objective. Clearly, if prospectors have diamonds in mind, we know exactly in which direction this is going, and even which filthy politicians will fill their pockets.

This is the dire reality for conservationists; the underhand world of patronage politics is hard at play and usually gets its way with impunity. The indigenous venture which is at the core of this intended exploration is a company whose principals are apparently well connected in political circles and who, some reports suggest, have made much out of recent ignoble initiatives to indigenous mining in Zimbabwe. The influence of the party faithful in these matters should give all a cause for concern.

The Zambezi River – a fragile ecosystem about to be pillaged – Photograph by Andrew Field – Simply Wild Photography

Exploiting HMSD is usually in the form of ruinous strip mining and probably the most destructive method of excavation in conservation terms. Mining these resources will result in the two river lines being ripped up, down to bedrock basically, and heavy, noisy machinery and processing lines moving down each riverbed with its commensurate destruction of the flora and fauna in its path, not to mention the toxic filth of such process. Progressive miners may attempt to rehabilitate the ecosystem they usually destroy with ecologically similar species, but Zimbabwe’s nouveau indigenous miners have no good track record of this, or of pouring funds back into the local community.

Even more concerning is the fact that the Ministry of Mines has actually issued prospecting and exploration licences to a private concern to conduct business in a national park or, worse, a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve, apparently without environmental impact assessment. What were they thinking? The area was set aside for the benefit of all Zimbabweans, and the world alike, to conserve the unique flora and fauna; and this purposefully excludes any human habitation or industry. Do you smell a rat yet?

Mana Pools is not without its recent controversy, involving a seemingly dodgy or at least an opaque deal, perhaps involving foreigners, politicians and those in trust or authority, along the way. More recently, construction commenced on a 24-bed Mana Pools Safari Lodge in an area that is considered environmentally delicate; despite strong objections and protestation by conservationists who know their business. Developers seem to have hung their success on a pithy, sometimes incorrect, ill-informed, and far from in-depth environmental assessment study. Clearly that rat is quite rotten.

The problem seems to be that those who protest the most about these invasions are seen or perceived as minority beneficiaries of what is about to be destroyed by those who now hold those positions of trust and authority. The current flush of bureaucrats brook no advice from experts that know and care, there is money to be made. That was the ethos of the ill fated land saga and now the business indigenisation process too.

The real trouble here is that the majority of Zimbabweans derive no tangible benefit from these fragile places, such as Mana Pools National Park, and, frankly, many may not care about their fate. Protest some may, but the cogs of contemporary politics and influence are not well attuned to what is good for all, but rather to that which is in it for them. That is why 30 tonne rigs are traversing Mana Pools’ delicate ecosystem with building supplies. That is why Timbuktu’s cultural heritage sites have been destroyed. Do the people care? Yes, the rat is dead and smelling bad.

The question is, do Zimbabweans really want to see their natural heritage being pillaged and plundered by the connected elite, the chefs? Do they much really care? If anything these remote havens of the real Africa are not within the reach of the people and herein lays the Achilles Heel of any eco-protest. It all seems a too little, too late. Much needs to be done to convince the ordinary person that his natural heritage is perilously at stake, because when all is done and dusted, river lines have been destroyed, and eco-systems have collapsed, it will be futile to say “I told you so”.

You can help… there is a petition to be signed and you could join a social media group in support of this campaign.

Visit Andrew’s Simply Wild Photography photo blog… you will not regret doing so!

South Africa comes to Kamfinsa


By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XI
A little visit to South Africa at Kamfinsa was with high expectations for a shopping experience most Zimbabweans have enjoyed in the big Pick n Pay supermarkets down south.
Alas, one comes away from the refurbished outlet asking oneself, what has changed apart from the brand and the paint work? Sadly, Pick n Pay has not quite cracked the egg, the hype and anticipation seem to have been misplaced, the phoenix is still in its embryo.

Pick n Pay sealed a deal with Thomas Meikle (TM) Supermarkets to maximise its shareholding in the local supermarket chain in December 2011, and has ventured into Zimbabwe to rebrand some of the TM Supermarket stores. This transaction involved much chicanery around Zimbabwe’s ludicrous indigenisation (chef 1 enrichment) laws.

The TM Supermarket situated in the small suburban shopping centre of Kamfinsa was the first to re-brand. Now understand this: shopping for the writer is a pain at the best of times… nothing worse than sauntering up and down the aisles, plopping your requirements into a trolley, and then standing in a long, disorderly queue to check out. Perhaps he is not best qualified to make the comment, but for what it is worth it is apparent that Pick n Pay were never too creative utilising the old store’s floor space; they possibly fumbled with their building contractors; and perhaps opened just a touch too soon.

Pick n Pay shops in South Africa have an open, welcoming, air about them. One might assume a critical success factor in the business may be to ensure customer flow. Roll them in; pack their trolleys; and check them out… far from this at suffering Kamfinsa. Clearly the layout of the new store is not too dissimilar from the old TM Supermarket branch. The store entrance is cluttered, the aisles are narrow and the till point experience is over-crowded, irritating and hardly different or refreshing. It seems like much wasted opportunity has befallen the chain – a little like Boffs 2 revisited.

There is much building work unfinished about the refurbished site. That will be completed, no doubt. The floor tiling about the shop and outside is a poor reflection on their building contractors, to say the least… a rush job, tiles unevenly placed, cracked, chipped and broken. On the perimeter all the usual signs of a building site… bricks stacks and a bit of rubble to boot. The parking area could do with better surfacing too, yet it seems to have just been done, clearly a cheap job.

The store is stocked well, in fact pumping with variety and with all the brands those Zimbabweans who venture south may be familiar with. In fairness to Pick n Pay, their handling and display of cold chain products is tops, in line with the best in the business. Regrettably, brand variety is not unique. Both the Spar and OK Zimbabwe groups are faring just as well. Two side stores, one which stocks clothing, and the other liquor, have been branded with the Pick n Pay trademark; one might guess victims of space constraints in the main complex. Both are well presented.

Of course, its early days yet, and one may assume the Pick n Pay brand will get into top gear soon, but frankly this visit was not quite as refreshing as the author had hoped for. Sure he got that ‘holiday feeling’ for a few minutes, but one hopes that when Pick n Pay venture onto the next rebranding project, supposedly TM Borrowdale, they will have put a little more thought into the process. They have few choices here: Pick n Pay has to come up to the expectation of the brand. Frankly, Kamfinsa does not quite achieve that.

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1 Colloquial term referring to greedy politicians and people of influence on the gravy-train;
2 Boffs was a tiny and cramped supermarket bazaar opened in Borrowdale by late business mogul, Sam Levy back in the late 1970s.

Visit Andrew’s Simply Wild Photography photo blog… you will not regret doing so!

Is the Battle for the Rhinoceros on its Last Legs?


By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XISouthern African conservation of the rhinoceros is severely threatened despite years of intensive preservation effort, mostly by private enterprise and non-governmental entities. Renewed demand for rhinoceros horn, basically a material called keratin, similar to hair and nails, has stepped up the pressure upon Africa’s most treasured fauna heritage. Criminal syndicates are hard at play while African governments slumber.

It is estimated that near 95 percent of all rhinoceros horn poached in southern Africa ends up in the Far East. China is often cited as a major consumer nation, yet the probability is that Vietnam may well be more predominant. Vietnam can hardly be proud that she lost her last Javan rhinoceros to poachers in 2010. With Asian rhinoceros numbers now depleted, to shamefully low levels, the East is looking at its new frontier of horn supply, Africa.

The principle cause of foreign demand is perceived pharmacological benefit in treating high fevers, influenza, hepatitis, and leukaemia amongst other things, according to ancient Chinese writings. Yet, no medical research in the last 30 years has concurred with these antediluvian authors. Asian rhinoceros horn is considered more potent than that of its African cousin and commands a five-fold higher price too. Alas for Africa, superior horn from the now critically endangered Sumatran and Javan rhinoceros, the latter disgracefully down to a mere world population of just 30 animals, is nearly impossible to acquire!

Africa is not just victim to this effect, but catalyst to the cause as well. The ‘great white’ hunters of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries set a poor precedent in animal slaughter, but poverty would, today, seem a principle cause. This is a by-product of Africa’s heritage and political mismanagement; the doctrine of want, greed and destruction; conflict and warfare; and all the apparent misdemeanours of post-colonial government. Such poverty has presented opportunity for both indigenous poacher (who would never benefit from the live animal in the wild) and foreign trafficker alike.

Picture ©2008 Andrew Field – Simply Wild Photography

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) sums it up succinctly,

“A lack of political support and will power for conservation efforts in many rhino habitats, international organized crime groups targeting rhinos and increasing illegal demand for rhino horns and commercial poaching are the main threats faced by rhinos.”

Africans have been far too passive in controlling the poaching scourge. Inadequate policing; ineffective legislation; poor conservation awareness and consequent pittance budgets are germane. Misdirected land policies; political attitude with hapless foresight in the face of many other priorities, usually brought about by greed, patronage, corruption and incompetence, contribute to poaching successes, trafficking wealth, and foreign demand.

Trafficking rhinoceros horn has become a lucrative business, so much so, that even the official keepers of Africa’s wildlife heritage are succumbing to its temptations. Your average poacher has stepped up the sophistication ladder too, armed with high powered rifles; state of the art darting equipment and specialist sedative drugs; chain saws; night vision instruments and helicopters as well. Often, the horn ‘reaping’ resources of criminal syndicates far ‘outgun’ those of the protectors. It has become a no win situation for Africa.

Trade in African rhinoceros horn is becoming so lucrative that opinions in some parts of the conversation camp are turning towards legitimising its trade. To some, that would be akin to decriminalising drug trafficking because the problem has become too large and too hot to handle. A few thousand rhinoceros in the wild are hardly likely to service the demand of a quarter of the world’s population. Massive breeding and livestock rearing programmes would be needed: something way outside the capacity of ‘developing world’ coffers and way down the priority list too. The scale is just too immense, besides poached horn is free, or at least cheap.

Pertinently, Africa can hardly feed itself, yet alone nurture its wildlife. Can Africa look to its Eastern horn market for help? Strange as that may seem, Asia, being the principle source of demand, has not seen fit to properly conserve or indeed escalate or ‘farm’ its own rhinoceros populations to service horn demand. Why should they? The ease with which Asia has managed to supplement dwindling supplies of, albeit less powerful, horn out of Africa should be ringing bells loud and long for African politicians.

Conservationists have been tolling these bells for decades. Zimbabwe’s Campfire programme has long identified the need to allow poor rural communities, the have-nots, to be rewarded and benefit from their wildlife heritage through conservation projects alongside the wealthy. Could African communities, using Campfire styled strategies, benefit from massive rhinoceros breeding schemes and how effectively could governments protect their efforts if they did? It seems that this has been left to private enterprise, which is actually stifled by regulatory control against trading the horn they reap from living, rather than slaughtered, beasts.

Little doubt the debate will continue, but swift action is now the only hope. In the meantime, Africa’s rhinoceros populations are on the decline, being decimated, following the Asian trend. Clearly, Far Eastern nations, responsible for the destruction of African fauna, need to play their critical role in controlling illicit trade, yet that outcome is remote.

That leaves the issue squarely in the hands of poorly resourced Africans. It does not bode well for the rhinoceros, short of implementing some rather draconian measures. How does one expect African governments to fair against illicit horn syndicates when more powerful and better resourced nations have failed against the drug cartels? The other option is to succumb to legitimisation of trade in horn. That will only enhance our acceleration towards extinction of the species because, seemingly, Africans lack the will and capacity to change and have run out of time to alter their course.

“Despite the action of conservation programmes, 25% of mammals are at risk of extinction. For example, the reassessments of several Rhinoceros species show that the subspecies of the Black Rhino in western Africa, the Western Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis longipes) has officially been declared Extinct. The subspecies of the White Rhino in central Africa, the Northern White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) is currently teetering on the brink of extinction and has been listed as Possibly Extinct in the Wild. The Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is also making its last stand, as the subspecies Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus is probably Extinct, following the poaching of what is thought to be the last animal in Viet Nam in 2010.” – IUCN

Visit Andrew’s Simply Wild Photography photo blog… you will not regret doing so!

Poultry By-product Dumping into Zimbabwe an Issue


By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
Flickr_Andrew_XIZimbabwe’s well established poultry industry has excelled during the last year despite many challenges facing producers within the sector. More recently the Zimbabwean government imposed duty surcharges on foreign produced dressed poultry products, amongst other food imports. This is an attempt to further protect local industries against competitive imports, a lead issue for egg and broiler meat producers. Local production has been frustrated by several factors, the more significant being production costs versus those of other regional players, giving rise to import demand. The principal reason for higher costs has been the price of non-GMO grain and soya imports to sustain the industry, higher power costs and the non-implementation of brining techniques on a larger scale.

Poultry meat production is the top protein in output, followed by beef and then pork in Zimbabwe, a significant change from the days when the beef industry ruled supreme, before year 2000. Industry estimates for broiler meat production through recognised abattoirs in 2011 are in the region of 25 thousand tonnes (20,000 tonnes 2010). There is a huge informal production sector, gauging from broiler chick sales, which is estimated to deliver a further 44 thousand tonnes in locally produced meat. Presently broiler meat production stands at 590 tonnes a week; about 2,540 tonnes a month, yet importers are still finding markets for their cheaper cuts and offal imports.

Obtaining import statistics from reliable sources is difficult. There is little doubt that graft and corruption have crept into the lucrative and sometimes illicit import chain; added to which there is the embarrassment that a one-time net exporter of poultry products and its principal inputs has to admit being a net importer. Industry estimates are often based on hearsay and unofficial sources in consequence.

In 2010 some sources indicate that 17,000 tonnes of dressed meat entered the country, while other sources indicate that only 13 thousand tonnes should have entered, based on veterinary permits issued, thus giving rise to a 4,000 tonne discrepancy (then over 6% of market demand). Added to this, most of the imports were cheap cuts or offal, the latter being supposedly banned from importation (like pork bones which are still coming into the country). Guesswork suggests that upward of 20 containers a week of low quality South American chicken imports are presently coming onto the market (some say that over 2,000 tonnes of cheap meat is being imported monthly), at the same old prices, yet little intervention by responsible state agencies is apparent. It raises questions.

Day old chick production peaked in September 2011 at 5,6 million broiler birds for the month. This is an important part of the industry; servicing large scale commercial, small scale and private growers, the latter mostly for own or local community consumption. It is estimated that broiler day old chick production in 2011 was near 52 million birds (38 million 2010). Table egg production reached 23 million dozen in 2011 versus 16 million dozen in 2010. Zimbabwe has a combined hatching capacity of 76 million birds a year, apparently. Industry officials believe the broiler industry is set to show tremendous growth in 2012 as a result of these trends. One industry source indicates that rural demand for day old chicks present stands at 570,000 per week, which is being met.

While buoyancy is apparent, Zimbabwe’s producers have issues to concern themselves with. The nation’s on farm production of soya beans and maize has fallen, giving rise to import supplementation. The prohibition on using cheaper GMO varieties of maize and soya (supposedly to protect a beef quota into GMO sensitive Europe; which is not being used) has placed the industry in a quandary. The ban is blunting the industry’s competitive edge and making Zimbabwean broiler meat production 20-50% higher than the larger integrated operators in South Africa. Leading producer nations such as the United States and Brazil are landing chicken in southern Africa at nearly half the cost of local production (for whole birds, which Zimbabwe is not importing). What Zimbabwe is importing are even cheaper waste products, chicken backs, skins, discounted leg quarters and offal which are a problem in their countries of origin. Brazil’s recent dumping initiatives into Africa have even the South African industry worrying and scurrying for import controls.

The poultry industry is obviously a large user of soya in its feed mixes and it is estimated that in 2010 demand for soya for the poultry industry alone was in the region of 102,000 tonnes, versus local production estimates at just 20-30 thousand tonnes, meaning a reliance on imports to sustain the industry. In 2011, and no doubt this year, that demand will have increased significantly, yet local farm production of soya beans will have remained static, if not dropped. The availability of soya meal from local oil expressers has also declined with duty free imports of essential cooking oils too. Government announced the removal of a 5% duty on imported soya meal, but are yet to implement this.

Maize supplies to the industry follow a similar pattern. Demand from the poultry sector reached 87,000 tonnes in 2010 (based on day old broiler chick sales), 120,000 tonnes in 2011 and expectedly larger in 2012. Maize meal is the staple in Zimbabwe and total demand for maize was in the region of 1,2 million tonnes (circa 2010) versus local production of just two thirds of this, making the entire nation mostly reliant on maize imports. Local producers will need to concentrate their efforts on acquiring locally grown soya and maize at reasonable prices, since those unable to do so will have the daunting task of importing expensive GMO free maize and soya meal, which is a logistical nightmare, and then looking to other areas where they can cut costs.

There are of course other efficiencies which local producers can attend to, including feed conversion efficiencies and energy usage (bearing in mind the vagaries of supply and the need for generator supplementation); the integrated abattoirs might well look towards matching import values with a reasonable level of brining too. It would be folly for producers to take the easy route and raise their prices to consumers, in the comfort of the newly imposed 25% duty surcharge on chicken imports, although this is somewhat inevitable with higher grain prices on the international market.

The issue here is that an apparent lack of import controls or, perhaps, corruption can easily circumvent duty surcharges; as they have permit-less and illicit imports in the past. This ‘grey trade’ is potentially a threat to human health and poses a serious menace to the local livestock industry. Unless the state gets properly and ethically involved with import controls, local producers will continue to operate on the downside of an unlevel playing field.
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Sources
– Zimbabwe Poultry Association statistics
– TechnoServe – Zimbabwe Poultry Sector Study, September 2011
– Dr Chrispen Sukume – Constraints Affecting Poultry Competitiveness, August 2011

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