Worldwide Impact of Drought on the Cattle Sector

Worldwide droughts are having a serious impacts on global agriculture. TheCattleSite Junior Editor, Charlotte Johnston, looks into what effects drought has had on agricultural systems and economies and the cattle sector in particular.
calendar icon 8 September 2009
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Situation of the African Continent

Droughts across Africa are seeing huge losses of cattle numbers, as herders fail to find water and pasture. Where cattle are measures of wealth and the economy, countries are falling apart.

In Kenya's eastern province, Isiolo, cattle are so weak they can no longer walk. Stock are carried in trucks to the slaughter house or market, reports Africa News.

The Ugandan New Vision reports prices of cattle plummeting as a result of the lack of water and pasture available. Rains are expected soon and the Water and Environment Minister, Maria Mutagamba has told farmers to take advantage of the coming rain to trap water.

Nairobi National Park in Kenya, have said that cattle numbers in the parks have reached an all time high as herders cross cattle over rivers and cut down park fences to let cattle in. There are huge environmental impacts to these parks if increasing numbers of cattle are allowed to continue grazing. Cattle carcases are littered all over as many animals do not make the long journeys. The smell of rotting carcases hangs in the air while dozens of dead cows lie scattered around.

On top of this, there have been reports from The Standard on Saturday that sick and dying cattle are being slaughtered on the roadside for distribution to butcheries. This is presenting severe health risks to consumers, with one man already been reported dead as a result of Anthrax infected meat.

There are great fear that meat being sold could be contaminated with anthrax, foot and mouth and east coast fever.

The Kenya Meat Commission (KMC) and the government have set up a programme to purchase livestock from severely affected districts in order to prevent further loss and control an outbreak of diseases.

Lake Mburo National Park in Uganda has reported similar issues where pastoralists have moved thousands of cattle into the park land to access the only constant supply of water. The Monitor reports concerns of detrimental effects to natural vegetation and increased risks of zoonotic diseases passing between cattle and wildlife.

The World Food Programme has said that with cattle dying, pastoralist communities have been pushed into hunger and there are an abundance of Kenyans requiring food assistance.

US and South and Central America

Over in the US and South America, lack of rainfall has caused further problems.

Reports across the US say that drought has hit hard this summer, particularly through the beef producing southern states.

Markets and abattoirs have seen a large influx of cattle as farmers are affected by lack of water and feed. Harvests have been postponed, but are reaching the stage where even rain will not help them much.

Estimated crop losses are between 30 - 80 per cent and hay and pastures losses between 70 - 80 per cent pushing supplementary feed prices up.

The President of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association told Reuters that he expected anywhere between 12 to 18 per cent of cattle to have been sold in the severe drought areas.

"Losses in the US have hit $3.6 billion."
AgriLife Economists

Texas holds the largest proportion of the US beef cattle herd, but farmers have been forced to sell off cattle as the state experiences exceptional drought conditions. Although there has been some rain relief over the last week. Texas AgriLife Extension Service economists predict the state's losses so far this year at $3.6 billion. An AgriLife Extension agent estimated that most ranchers had lost from three to five per cent of their herds directly due to drought conditions.

Cattle prices have remained particularly low due to the exceptionally high supply, as The CattleSite has previously reported, some believe that short supply in the long run may push prices back up.

Mexico are major traders with the US, importing breeding stock and exporting young stock for fattening and slaughter. They too have been affected by the drought, with crops and cattle dying, as well as a surge in supply of cattle sold in the US pushing cattle prices down. Agricultural groups predict that more than 1,000 cattle lost due to lack of rainfall.

Argentina, the biggest beef-consuming nation and one of the top five beef exporters, has experienced much of the same, with cattle slaughter exceeding records in July due to the drought. The CattleSite have previously reported that many of the herd slaughtered were breeding stock, which is likely to effect supply in the long run and may lead to imports.

Drought Impact in Australia

Drought also caught Australia earlier this year, damaging harvest and forcing cattle to be sold particularly in New South Wales as feed and water supplies dwindled. Meat and Livestock Australia predicted the effects of the drought to impact on livestock productivity for up to five years. The drought had a severe impact on beef exports as production was down.

Reports across Australia report its warmest winter on record, with crop yields most likely already down due to lack of rain. The current weather conditions do not bear well for the spring and summer with authorities warning about bush fires.

The worldwide drought has also has a severe affect in India, the Middle East and China.

September 2009
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