Experts in livestock and beef production have expressed concerns over the low levels of Uganda’s consumption of meat saying, there is a clear need to produce more meat, beef in particular, if the country is not to import to meet the demand.
The low consumption rate for meat among Ugandans is attributed to the deficit in meat production, poor beef quality and lengthy period of raising and feeding animals to reach the market and slaughter age.
To increase meat production cattle beef producers need to adopt intensive animal husbandry practices and supplementary feeding technologies to guarantee proper feeding, nutrition, and faster growth.
Experts say, Uganda has 14.2 million cattle, 16 million goats, 4.5 million sheep and 47.6 million poultry. The country also has 4.1 million pigs plus some donkeys and camels-all having a biomass equivalent of 14.7 million Tropical Livestock Units (TLU) dominated by cattle (77%).
The project Principal Investigator (PI) Makerere University, Associate Professor Denis Mpairwe said Uganda‘s 11.9m cattle population is raised for meat in four broad production systems. Pastoral (41% of cattle) contributing 19% of farm income, Agro-pastoral (49% of cattle) contributing 12% of farm income, Ranches (8% of cattle) contributing 45% of farm income and Semi-intensive production system (2% of cattle ) contributing to 75% of farm income.
Professor Mpairwe however noted that competition for land, feed and water resources is forcing more migratory cattle owners to sedentarize. Depending on the local conditions like climate, infrastructure, land availability, and local traditions, Prof. Mpairwe identified beef cattle husbandry systems in the country.
The extensive systems comprising the pastoral, agro pastoral and ranching systems form the greatest concentration of beef cattle in Uganda but with low input low output with the common practice of leaving animals to survive by nature.
The other beef cattle husbandry system is the semi-intensive system where Mixed Crop-Livestock Farming System falls.
The other according to Prof. Mpairwe is the intensive systems which includes Fenced dairying , Zero Grazing , Urban scavenging animal production and Tethering.
‘‘We need to FINISH animals for elite market [Beef Fattening on pastures or Feed-Lotting (confine + intensive feed rations) that is the essence of supplementary feeding“. Prof. Mpairwe stressed.
Prof. Mpairwe was optimistic that Uganda has opportunities highlighting the projected demand for Prime Beef.
“There is initial need to produce 46,800 feeder animals for prime beef. This will require slaughtering 900 prime quality cattle a week or 180 animals a day in a 5 days working week.
High income Ugandans and a rising number of urban dwellers are demanding ‘better quality’ beef. This elite local market will initially need 12,000 well finished animals a year”, the university don said.
He emphasized that the export market needs good quality tinned canned beef and vacuum-packed special cuts with an initial size of 100 ton of beef a week, 500 well-finished cattle slaughtered a week or 26,000 a year.
In addition, Prof. Mpairwe said, special clientele (of 65+ Embassies, NGOs, private investors, 15+ two star or higher level hotels and restaurants) need prime quality beef from ‘special cut’ processors. The size of this market is about 1,820-ton a year or 8,800 slaughter cattle.
Other general challenges constant experts say, seasonal shortages of grazing, insufficient watering, animal diseases with high morbidity, poor access to markets, and unfavourable prices necessitate the adoption of supplementary feeding of livestock.
Insecure land tenure, rangeland degradation, changing lifestyles, scarce labour and loss of traditional grazing lands to food and crops cultivation and commercial farming, or even to urban development, requires livestock farmers to be more innovative by adopting intensive farming and supplementary feeding.
In addition, climatic change effecting beef cattle production via drought, unpredictable rains, barren lands and sporadic threats of desertification also mean that beef cattle farmers must change the way of doing business to tap into the market for improved livelihoods.