Red meat biodiversity plan

SANBI is starting pilot projects to develop biodiversity in the red meat industry, writes Roelof Bezuidenhout.

The SA Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) has identitfied three regions – one in the Free State and two in KZN – to initiate pilot projects aimed at developing biodiversity in the red meat industry. The three regions are Harrismith and Vryheid, where the focus will be on beef and sheep farmers, and Colenso, where game and venison production will be studied.

According to Dr Alastair Patterson, who will be implementing the project, the main aim is to help farmers develop management plans covering all aspects of the relevant production systems and processes. This will improve veld management, livestock productivity and farm profits.

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At first, it was felt that if a “certified” diversification programme was applied to all sectors of the red meat value chain, consumers might be willing to pay more for the final product.

However, recent investigations indicate that only a small percentage of consumers would be prepared to pay more for “biodiverse” products and that any increase in value wouldn’t filter back to the primary producer.

“That’s why we’ve decided it would be better to deal directly with farmers and help them preserve and develop their grasslands,” said Dr Patterson.

“Biological production will increase alongside financial returns, and profits will be the incentive to continue with and further develop improved veld management techniques.”

To acknoweldge farmers’ participation, their operations will be certified rather than their products. Emerging commercial farmers will also qualify.

The SANBI programme will run over five years. Items on the agenda for the first year include discussions with the Department of Agriculture, bringing participants on board, evaluating the veld on farms and developing management plans.