Cattle, introduced into Vanuatu in the 1800s is now Vanuatu’s second largest exported commodity.
However due to the current demand in residential subdivisions, prime farming land has been replaced with homes such as Blandinier, Prima, Beverly Hills, Stella Mare, Devil’s Point, Belview, Rentapao, Narpow Point and Teouma.
With the loss of prime farming land, there is less space to farm the cattle.
Alain Simeon, media officer of the Department of Livestock revealed beef alone, contributes to 12% of the Gross Domestic Products in exports.
Mr Simeon said that the 2009 agriculture census showed that there were 216,000 heads of cattle in Vanuatu and that at one time in the past, there were about 500,000 heads of cattle in Vanuatu.
Coffee and controversy on Wednesday 10 April 2019 looked more into the issue of the decrease in cattle stock in Vanuatu and panelists for the show were Lonnie Bong, Director of the Department of Livestock and Moses Nambo, Principal Livestock Officer of Shefa Province.
Director Bong, repeated what Simeon said and stressed that the loss of prime farming land was a major contributing technique to the decline in numbers and also pointed out that poor farming techniques used by farmers also led to a low production rate.
Another reason he mentioned was the drop in buying prices that the abattoirs were offering. That in turn caused a lot of small holder farmers to lose hope and give up on farming cattle.
The Director explained that the Livestock Department only came into being a department on its own in 2012 (after being abolished by the Comprehensive Reform Program in 1998) and since then ideas to combat our decreasing numbers in cattle stock came about.
The cattle restocking program then started in 2015 and that almost all islands in Vanuatu are part of the program. The cattle used were improved breeds such as cross breeds between Brahmin, Charolais, Limousine and Hereford breeds, which have the ability to grow quickly and produce more meat.
Mr Bong mentioned that the main focus of the cattle restocking program is food security. As it is an ongoing process, the target is for Vanuatu to have over 500,000 heads of cattle by 2025.
In terms of effectiveness, the highly determined director stated that there has been a 38 % increase since the program’s initiation in 2015 and he further added that if farmers keep this up, the target for 2025 shall be met.
Like all other development programs there will always be challenges. For the cattle restocking program the challenge is the Ni Vanuatu attitude.
As Ni Vanuatu we are people who like to eat a lot and we definitely love our beef. When a child is born, a cow is killed, when someone gets married about two to four cows are killed and when someone dies the same number of cattle is slaughtered.
Moses Nambo, Principal Livestock officer of Shefa Province, confirms this and goes on further to state that people can’t kill smaller animals such as pigs, sheep, goats or chickens because it won’t feed the families at these above-mentioned events.
Mr Nambo encourages people to kill these smaller animals for smaller events such as birthdays as in most islands people do not have fridges, therefore, the left-over beef goes to waste.
He also goes on saying that when people just kill cows for the sake of feeding everyone at feasts, they also kill female cows as well. Since last year former Minister of Agriculture, Matai Seremaiah placed a ban on killing female cows which is now effective.
The Principal Livestock Officer encourages people to take part in the restocking program but explains that any interested must be a farmer and have sound knowledge of farming but should not join just for the sake of receiving free cattle from the government.
Mr. Nambo also makes it clear that other requirements for participation include, proper fencing, proper feed and sustainable water in the paddock. He also suggests that the interested candidates should have cattle in their paddocks so the new bulls introduced can easily reproduce with them and fulfill the objective of restocking.