Waking up to meat export potential
PAKISTAN, especially Punjab, is slowly waking up to the export potential in the global halal meat market estimated between $500 billion to $600 billion. The country’s current share in the international trade is only $150 million.
Pakistan fortunately has all the raw material needed for securing a lion’s share in the international market. The country has around 150 million animals, with bulk of them in Punjab. The livestock sector is growing at an annual healthy pace of four per cent against 2.7 per cent increase in population, leaving a substantial margin for export.
Being a Muslim- state, there is no reason why Pakistan should not be able to carve a big niche for itself in the international market.
Like all other export businesses, meat export is also a value-chain (production, processing and marketing) activity. Thus, focus on all three areas is required to boost exports. For quality production (supply-chain), better breeding and nutrition of animals and improvement in farmers’ management practices needs to be ensured.
The genetic strength makes local animals’ management easier, as Pakistan has some of the finest breeds on the planet. But still, they need to be raised on international standards. Once it is done, they should give Pakistani exporters an edge in the world market.
Luckily, the processing part and value addition is also improving. Punjab has established a modern slaughter house near Lahore — the first one in the public sector. Over dozen private exporters have also put up such slaughter houses. So, the processing part is being established and spreading in the country. If exports pick any pace, more such facilities can quickly follow.
The marketing infrastructure development has also not done badly. All the above-mentioned facilities have cold storages (-20 degree Celsius) and blast freezing plants (-40 degree Celsius) — basic requirements for exports. One most important component of the marketing is international compliance — general certifications and some country-specific certificates. Punjab has already negotiated with the UAE for such certification and is in the process of finalising it with Iran, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.
Once in place, such certificates should give the country a good platform to launch a big initiative for export. The country will break the sound barrier of meat export once it is able to negotiate certifications with the European Union and other high-end western countries.
But there is a big hurdle, which Pakistan, have not been able to overcome effectively so far. It is a restriction by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) against exports from countries with from foot-and-mouth disease which Pakistan occasionally suffers from. However, the OIE restriction leaves a window for such countries: they can create disease-free zones and farms and export from there.
The creation of such zones and farms has been the only missing link in promotion of exports. All provinces regularly undertake universal vaccination plans for children but have not been able to replicate such plans for animals. The vaccination purchase worth Rs500 to Rs600 million is one of the biggest sources of corruption in the Livestock Department if the media reports are something to go by. Punjab tried to create a foot-and-mouth disease-free zone in Cholistan area last January but then, typical to politicians and bureaucratic behaviour, forgot the entire initiative within next few months.
The Punjab government had problems with the then chief of the Punjab Agriculture and Meat Company (Pamco) and removed him. With his removal, the Cholistan initiative also went down the drain despite the fact that some 2,000 farms had been registered under the project and more than Rs3billion private investment flowed in as people set up new farms to benefit from export.
Punjab has enormous potential and it must try to realise it by putting together the mechanism. The effort must begin with setting things right for domestic market, ensuring quality in local market and then extend the effort to foreign market. By putting things in place in domestic market, it would not only test its supply chain but also win confidence of foreign importers and enable local exporters. Domestic exporters need a market that is playing by some rules. Only then local supply chain would be able to respond to world demands.
On the second plank, but only as stopgap arrangement, the government should try to create some zones and farms that are disease-free. They must be expanded to free the entire country of animal disease. Otherwise, it would be really difficult to sustain exports with such high international sensitivity. If the Punjab and federal government, jointly or individually, can take both these steps, there is no reason why Pakistan cannot claim its share in a market where, literally speaking, sky is the limit.