The lifestock sector continues to face challenges, even as the importance of local food production continues to grow in context of an inflationary global environment.
Those rearing animals for food production are not immune from the effect of climate change, supply shortages and distribution bottlenecks.
One area of special concern for the local sector, however, relates to something that is vital for the sector’s very survival.
As we have reported in these pages, a shortage of government veterinarians has led to complaints that not enough is being done to reverse the trend of decreased births and declining milk production.
These vets are seen as having important expertise needed to propagate livestock.
“We don’t get the vets after 9 am and because of the pandemic they have chosen to stay home or not come out to work at all,” said former president of the Sheep and Goat Farmers Association Shiraz Khan. He said the artificial insemination service provided by the Ministry of Agriculture has faced challenges for some years.
Though private vets are available, finding artificial insemination experts has been difficult. At the same time, when such expertise is found, it can be pricey.
Meanwhile, rearing male animals for the purpose for breeding is prohibitively costly, according to many farmers. Also costly are general healthcare expenses.
All of these matters are issues which should, in theory, be under the purview of the Livestock and Livestock Products Board. That board was set up in 1997 to monitor problems affecting livestock production, collect data, advise policy-makers – including Government – and set quality guidelines.
The Government, however, has brought legislation to repeal this board.
In the Senate on Tuesday, Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat said no regulations had been created by the board in its 25 years of existence. But the minister gave no further details and it is not clear what efforts have been made to promulgate such regulations in the past.
Under the board’s governing statute, it is, in fact, for the minister to make regulations deemed necessary to give effect to the law.
Meanwhile, it is the ministry that appears to be currently responsible for policy-making, legislation, permitting and oversight.
“These should remain with the ministry,” Mr Rambharat argued.
Independent Senator Anthony Vieira, however, questioned why the board was being repealed rather than reformed to include missing aspects such as regulatory oversight. He said removing the board and reverting to the ministry was a step backward, noting the board is meant to comprise specialists.
The truth is, whether handled by the board or the ministry, all of these issues affecting the livestock sector need to be dealt with urgently and by people with the knowledge and expertise to effect meaningful change.
With the world eating significantly less meat and with many countries turning away from livestock production owing to environmental issues, the sector faces another set of coming challenges.
For the moment, the State needs to stop wasting time tinkering with administration and instead spell out a plan for boosting food production, including measures to aid livestock farmers.