In a continent where livestock exports “are not sophisticated enough relative to the rest of the world”, Botswana has been mentioned among exceptions to the norm.
“About 75 percent of complex products are exported by only seven countries, namely South Africa (26 percent), Egypt (16 percent), Morocco (7 percent), Botswana, Namibia and Swaziland with 6 percent each, and Tunisia (5 percent). These countries are also among the most complex economies in the continent, that is, their productive structures are among the most sophisticated,” says the African Development Bank, noting another part that “66 percent of Africa’s livestock exports are not complex.”
The bank carried out a study that assessed the level of sophistication of livestock products in Africa by evaluating technology intensity and economic complexity of each product. Using trade data from 1995-2012, livestock commodity exports were classified based on technology intensity.
Additionally, Botswana is the only other country besides Namibia that has “maintained a comparative advantage in processed livestock food commodities such as fresh or frozen meat.”
The bank says that between 1995 and 2011, less than half of African countries were able to maintain long-term comparative advantage in the export of at least one livestock commodity and that very few have diversified export baskets while the rest have specialised in one or two products. Only six countries were able to maintain a comparative advantage in the export of live animals: Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Mali, Niger, Namibia, and Sudan (former).
According to AfDB’s figures, the biggest producers of livestock in Africa in 2011 were: Ethiopia with 16 percent of the Africa’s total stock, followed by Sudan (former) (11.3 percent), Nigeria with 8 percent, Kenya (6.78 percent), Tanzania (5.70 percent), South Africa (4.38 percent), Somalia (4.22 percent), Niger (3.86 percent), Mali (3.76 percent), and Burkina Faso (3 percent). These ten countries account for about two-thirds of the continent’s total livestock.
“It should be noted that countries that have a huge livestock potential are not necessarily among those that managed to keep a long term comparative advantage in the exports of these products. For instance, Nigeria, the third largest producer of cattle in Africa, does not possess comparative advantage in export of any of these products. Contrastingly, Botswana, ranked 25th in the continent, has demonstrated a long term comparative advantage in the export of fresh, chilled, and frozen meat. This means that big producers can also tap into their potential to get higher export earnings,” the bank says.
Between 1995 and 2012, Africa earned approximately US$51 billion through exporting livestock commodities compared with US$143 billion spent on importing the same type of goods. In addition, the trade gap has widened since 2003, when growth in imports accelerated against sluggish expansion in exports.
Southern and West Africa lead in intra-region livestock trade, but trade is smaller in other regions. A little more than a third of exports and about a quarter of imports are traded within the Southern Africa region. However, the region has a negative trade balance with the rest of the world. It exports 60 percent of its livestock commodities but its imports accounted for 72 percent.
“These results show that there is an opportunity to increase intra-regional trade among African countries. If a country can produce goods that another country needs, there is a trade opportunity among these two countries and trade partnership could help in this regard,” AfDB says.
In Botswana, large-scale livestock trade is the responsibility of the Botswana Meat Commission which was established in 1965 when cattle farming was the only real source of income for most of the indigenous population. Last year, AfDB hailed BMC as one of the best “examples of success with science and technology application in African agriculture.” It said that despite being agriculturally ill-endowed, Botswana managed to develop a modern beef-exporting industry as the backbone of its economy.