Zimbabweans giving up steak for chicken

HARARE - Meat processors know exactly what  Zimbabweans are serving for dinner. And increasingly, steak is dropping off the menu.

Coming from a low base in the hyperinflationary period that peaked in 2008, shoppers and restaurants are turning away from pricey beef and opting for chicken instead.

The prospects for the country’s poultry industry look bright despite high production costs and increased chicken imports.

Solomon Zawe, Zimbabwe Poultry Association (ZPA) chairperson, said his organisation is targeting to produce over 60 million day-old chicks this year, up from around 40 million last year. The country has a combined hatching capacity of 76 million day-old chicks per annum.

“A range of sizes of units have sprung up everywhere — from the medium size units of 1 000 birds to massive industrial scale operations. Chickens are now big business,” he said.

Previously an enclave of white business, black Zimbabweans such as Gideon Gono have successfully ventured into factory chicken farming, cornering the market through high-technology, with the central bank chief’s Lunar Chickens rapidly growing in popularity and attaining the famed Halal certification.

Zimbabwe’s poultry industry is showing massive growth since 2009 due to a surging demand for chicken meat and eggs. The shift to chicken consumption comes on the back of a significant increase in beef prices.

Production statistics from the ZPA for 2013 first quarter show continued growth in the poultry industry, with broiler day-old chick production increasing from about 1,2 million in 2009 first quarter to over 5,5 million in the 2013 first quarter.

“While sexed pullet sales were down three percent in comparison with the same period in 2012, in-lay layers increased by 16 percent to 1,2 million with a corresponding 11 percent increase in large-scale table egg production to 2,2 million dozen per month,” said Zawe.

Total egg production is currently estimated at 5,7 million dozen per month.

A snap survey conducted by Daily News revealed that shoppers and restaurants are turning away from pricey beef and opting for chicken instead. Some appear to be moving away from meat altogether.

“Not long ago beef used to feature prominently on my grocery list but now things have changed. Chicken has now become more affordable more than any meat,” said 43-year-old Chipo Masawi.

The retail price of economy beef which has the highest demand is between $4,60 – $8,00 per kg. An average chicken retails at about $3,30 per kg.

Industry experts contend that since the demise of the Cold Storage Company and the subsequent dwindling of the country’s national herd, meat consumption has changed significantly in Zimbabwe over the last 20 years.

Beef used to be the most consumed, with Zimbabweans eating on average 13kg per annum in the 1980s.

According to a recent USAid report, today this has dropped to only 3,3kg, the lowest in the region.

Chicken and pork in particular have replaced this, with chicken consumption now half of all meat consumed.

Beef has dropped to only 35 percent.

In 2000, during the height of land invasions, the cattle population was at 6,8 million but now its down to  almost a million, while beef slaughters have deteriorated to 200 000, from 605 000 in 2000.

Analysts say the declining cattle industry has struggled to adjust due to the outbreak of diseases, rising input costs particularly maize and soya meal, high volumes of illegal imports, drought and poor cattle management practices.

Ian Scoones, an agricultural research professor,  said the shift to chicken or pork has happened widely in Africa, including Zimbabwe.

“This is partly due to price differentials which have shifted with cheap imports,” he said.

Statistics from the USAid survey show that meat consumption has rebounded since 2009 as the economy has improved, now estimated to be 11 000 metric tonnes per month, up by 20 percent.

“But the pattern of consumption has changed,” said Natalie Chimushonga, a food, nutrition and agro processing specialist consultant.

“This has been driven in part by taste, but also austerity as people looked to cheaper sources of protein,” she said.

The Zimbabwe Statistical Office (Zimstats) said the national food poverty line for March 2013 stood at $34,84 per person, an increase of one percent from $34,50.

This means an average person in Zimbabwe survives on $1,16 per day.

The World Bank defines poverty in absolute terms and extreme poverty as living on less than $1,25 per day, and moderate poverty as less than $2 a day.

The poverty line is the threshold below which families or individuals are considered to be lacking the resources to meet the basic needs for healthy living, in other words, having insufficient income to provide food, shelter and clothing needed to preserve health.

The World Bank say most Zimbabweans live below this line.

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