Opportunities for smallholder beef farmers in Northern Malawi

Over 90% of the beef produced and consumed in Malawi comes from indigenous Malawi Zebu cattle from smallholder cattle populations currently estimated at over 1.2 million.

Malawi Zebu cattle are most numerous in the northern and central regions of Malawi, (North-594,998, Central-252,785 Southern-373,864) with increased number of small stock in the southern region (2014 Agricultural Production Estimates Survey). Thus the maximum indigenous cattle density is in the far north, estimated at 1.4 cattle/ha cropped land above the less than 0.25 cattle/ha cropped land density found in the rest of the country. Malawi, like in many African countries, indigenous cattle are regarded as a source of wealth and security but the current prevailing marketing channels do not benefit the smallholder rural producers.

Atrader taking cattle to the Community abattoirMarketing of cattle in Malawi are broadly categorized as either formal or informal. The informal channels consists of individuals buying cattle from farmers for different reasons which include slaughter, as an investment or for social functions such as funerals, customary and religious
celebrations. Usually sales for such purposes are conducted right at the farmer’s kraal and this has the advantage that there are no transportation costs incurred for the farmer. Sometimes, the farmers slaughter the animals themselves and sell the meat to fellow villagers. This market channel is however not very reliable due to unorganized and thus unpredictable availability of buyers. The challenge to livestock farming in communal areas is making use of marketing channels that offer the best prices and hence highest returns. Such decisions require reliable information about cattle breeds and prices, the right selling time and the channels available.

In the formal channel, farmers sell cattle directly to butcheries, auctions, feedlot owners and abattoirs. Butcheries are abundant and are mainly located in trading and urban centres. They venture out into the rural areas to identify and buy animals that may be available for sale and then transport them to slaughter areas. Most butcheries do not have the required equipment for cutting and storage of meat. Consequently there is not much price differentiation among different parts of the carcasses, and also incur losses
through putrefaction of the meat.

It is much better, in terms of farmer profitability and competitiveness to fatten animals before sale. Even the value-chain performance indicators show that Front view of the community abattoir constructed to provide opportunity for formal marketing of indigenous cattleFront view of the community abattoir constructed to provide opportunity for formal marketing of indigenous cattleproductivity is much better in the fattening system because of the significant live weight gain. The big difference in profit margin and competitiveness between fattened and nonfattened animals means that farmers can re-coup high value from beef animals by fattening the animals before sale to feedlots to end up appropriating higher margins. A comparison of the price movements from the farm-gate through supermarkets indicates that feedlot owners make substantial margins given the volumes of beef they slaughter and sell. Some part of this margin could be recouped by farmers if they perform certain primary functions such as fattening and/or slaughter. However, this would require that they organize themselves to invest in abattoirs. Value accruing to farmers would improve if they had abattoirs and supply semi-processed beef instead of selling live animals.

It is in view of this that the Department of Animal Health and Livestock Development (DAHLD) in conjunction with Farm Income Diversification Program (FIDP) mobilized smallholder indigenous cattle keepers in northern Malawi into marketing groups and/or beef producers association and constructed two community-based beef abattoirs at Ekwendeni in Mzuzu and at Karonga Boma. The aim is to install processing equipment like the ones found in large retail shops where meat is neatly cut and graded with each quality grade attracting appropriate price per Kilogram. Such presentation of beef tends to be attractive to consumers and represents a form of value addition which enhances income
to the farmers and other actors in the beef supply chain.

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