Tanzania's huge cattle herds: boon or bane

Sunday May 20 2018

The director general of the National Bureau of Statistics, Dr Albina Chuwa, told a press conference in Dodoma on Wednesday that Tanzania boasts the second-largest cattle herds in Africa – behind Ethiopia.

Presenting the preliminary findings of the second ‘Annual Agriculture Sample Survey’ conducted in FY-2016/17, the D-G said Tanzania’s cattle numbers “climbed to 30.5 million in 2016/17, up from 25.8 million” in 2015/16.

That is a 4.7-million rise in the numbers during the relatively-short period of one year: an increase of 391,667 head a month – or 13,056 head a day!

We are not saying this is an impossible feat. But, if the findings of the Sh2.3 billion survey – jointly-funded by the USA and TZ governments under the ‘Global Action Plan for Improvement of Agriculture and Rural Statistics’ – are to be relied upon, then it can arguably be said that Tanzania is on the right track in the livestock development stakes.. Or, is it? This is especially considering that, for example: Tanzaniahad only 17.7 million head of cattle in 2006, compared with 37 million for Ethiopia – and 26 million for the ‘greater Sudan-of-the-day.’

Furthermore, Tanzania boasts the second ranking in cattle herds in Africa NOT on merit in terms of distinguished livestock development, management, but by sheer default.

For quite a long time, Tanzania clung to the third position, behind Ethiopia and Sudan.

When Sudan split into two in 2011 – and the newly-created South Sudan Republic took with it livestock and other ‘belongings’ from the thitherto ‘larger’ Sudan – Tanzania automatically rose in the livestock rankings to second place. But, no matter… What really matters here is the role which the increased cattle numbers plays in Tanzania’s economy and land space.

Livestock accounts for only 7.4 per cent of GDP

According to the 2017 International Livestock Research Institute, the livestock sector contributed 7.4 per cent to Tanzania’s $51.61 million GDP at the official exchange rate in 2016. This is notwithstanding the country’s relatively huge cattle herds – complete with their multi-product value-addition potential.

Going by FAO rankings (2016), countries with fewer cattle than Tanzania– for example South Africa (14 million head) and Botswana (2.5 million)– nonetheless have thriving livestock-related industries, while ‘cattle-rich’ Tanzania doesn’t! So, unless and until we seriously invest in cattle-processing that produces highly-competitive quality products, mere cattle numbers will mean little outside databases.

Also, the ‘climate change-shrinking’ land space vis-à-vis burgeoning cattle herds can only escalate land conflicts between crop farmers and cattle herders – conflicts which continue to plague Tanzania. So: are the increasing herds a boon or a bane, pray? Dr Chuwa notes that the increasing cattle figures “are proof that Tanzania has a huge potential for meat-processing and other animal products to meet market demands…”

While that sounds heavenly, we must nonetheless come down to earth and effectively surmount the attendant challenges of livestock-related land conflicts and quality livestock value chains. We must exploit the ‘potential’ for fruitful results on the ground.

Anything less than that – and we’ll be barking up the wrong (socio-economic development) tree