In last week’s blog I discussed the new beef production systems supplying meat to consumers in Masvingo province and beyond. A radically reconfigured pattern of land use and ownership has resulted in diverse new value chains. This has had effects across the chain, including in the retail sector.
In our book, and a paper we wrote in 2008, we discussed the situation in the midst of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis. The picture was one of informal markets, illegal trade and the collapse of the mainstream retail sector. What has happened since 2009 and the stabilisation of the economy and the introduction of a multicurrency environment?
Certainly the growth of butcheries has continued, despite challenges. In a survey in 2006-07 we counted 31 butcheries in Masvingo town (20 in Mucheke township alone) and 9 in Ngundu. All businesses suffered badly at the peak of the economic crisis, and many closed in 2008. However since 2009, they have reopened. In 2013 the number of registered butcheries in Masvingo stood at 32 (14 in town, including 8 supermarkets, with a further 18 in the townships). In 2010-11 there were also 13 in Ngundu and 21 in Chiredzi (5 in town, 12 in Tshovani and 4 in Garage). Unlike in 2006, supermarkets are stocking beef, but only the more premium ‘supergrade’ cuts. In Masvingo, for example, OK and TM source from the larger abbatoirs, such as Carswell and Montana who can supply high quality meat regularly. During the economic crisis they would source from wherever, including meat traders, but, as TM’s meat buyer explained, the quality and reliability was poor, and enjoying a vibrant trade. Today meat traders supply other butcheries who undercut the supermarkets in terms of price. Some outlets are directly linked to abbatoirs, and they can cut costs even further.
Clearly demand is buoyant, despite economic difficulties. While red meat consumption has declined according to official statistics, and there has been a switch to pork, chicken and fish, beef remains people’s favoured meat. But with the change in production system, there is a different pattern and quality of supply. Instead of the top cuts, the lower quality ‘nyama’ is more commonly sold, and this can still be marketed at reasonable prices. In addition to registered butcheries there are number of ‘mobile’ illegal operations. Masvingo’s Chief Health Officer, Mr Munganasa explained they have a ‘running battle’ with such vendors who sell cheap, imported South African chicken and beef from freezer boxes. A leading local butcher, Mrs Foroma, complained: “We are losing business from these vendors. We pay our rent, and comply with the regulations, but they undercut us. They become very active in the evening after the municipal authority workers knock off. They use illegal ‘under the tree’ slaughter and sell to food sellers”. But illegal operators say there plenty of business: “there is room enough for everyone”, one argued.
In order to increase profits, and compete with the multiple independent vendors, many butcheries also have a food selling business, sometimes operated as a franchise. For example Hungoidza butchery at Ngundu established a food outlet in 2000 which has continued as a thriving business, relying on truckers who stop on their way to and from Beitbridge. The butchery makes biltong which they buy, and also has a braai (barbecue). “There is always a brisk trade”, the owner explained.
Also with local slaughter arrangements, linked to butcheries, there has been a growth in sales of ‘fifth quarter’ products (offal, head, feet etc.), including sales to small restaurants and street sellers of food. Take Stanford Maringo. He is in his early thirties and comes from Zaka. He got a job about 10 years ago at Chakona’s butchery in Masvingo. He was a meat cutter and cattle buyer. But the pay was poor and he wanted to have his own business. In the end after trying out vegetable selling in the market, he struck a deal with the butchery owner that he would continue cutting meat, but could use the machine for slicing ‘mazondo‘, and he could put up a braai stand (barbecue) outside the shop. He sells mazondo to the customers at the next door bar, and has a roaring trade. He also generates good business for the butchery, buying about 80 cows’ feet a week, and selling on uncooked but sliced mazondo to other food sellers and restaurants. Stanford explains his plans:
My business is doing well. I send money home each month to my relatives in Zaka. Last month I bought a digital camera, and I will start a photo business too. My real, long term plan is become a cattle buyer, and enter meat retailing with my own shop. I also married my sweetheart, thanks to the proceeds from selling mazondo. She is also a butchery employee, but wants to start a hair salon. My mazondo business is going to provide the seed funds for this.
So, from selling cattle feet or tripe on the street, big and better things can happen. The same applies to the food sellers in Chikombedzi market. This is a massive weekly market centred on the cattle trade. Each week hundreds of animals are exchanged, and thousands of people from all around congregate. A number of food selling outlets have sprung up to serve the customers. The market is tightly regulated however. The local council charges vendors for their stands, and the Ministry of Health also requires certificates, banning those who are HIV positive from selling food. This all adds to the costs, but it is still profitable.
Nyariwe Ngudu has a stall, and she hires someone each month over the two days of the market to fetch water, wash plates and help her with the cooking. She sells pork from her own farm, but also buys in other meat to serve with sadza (mealie meal porridge). Betty Madondo focuses on cooking relish on market days. She has a mix: some goat meat, but also chicken as those coming from town prefer chicken, she says. Others get game meat and fish poached from the park, but the game scouts are always around at the market and demand bribes for selling. Although she doesn’t deal in game meat, she still has to pay bribes to the council workers and health officials, as the regulations are so strict. She cooks it in the evening before the market, and the food vendors come and buy from her, who sell on when the buses and trucks arrive for the market.
“There are so many people who come to the market”, Betty explains. “It’s great business, and they all want meat relish”. Although this is an intermittent business, with the market happening only once a month she gets a good profit in a few days, She also sometimes travels to other markets in the area to make up her income. She explains her business model: “When I get cash from relish sales, I buy sandals at the market. I then exchange these for goats, chickens, occasionally pigs, in the villages before the next market”.
Meat retailing has been transformed in recent years, as has the whole meat value chain. All these new enterprises are across the chain are connected, and have links to the land reform programme. From the new farms come the livestock, providing the business for the cattle traders, butcheries, abbatoirs and pole slaughterers. Low paid government workers also take a cut, deploying ‘regulations’ strategically, taking fines or bribes. And from there, food sellers, restaurant owners and others can make a living, providing new opportunities to build, expand and extend their livelihood activities.
The current situation represents a highly differentiated scene with room for diverse enterprises fitting different market niches. As South African and local capital reinvests in the Zimbabwean retail sector, will this diversified, employment and livelihood generating sector remain, or will the longer term picture be one of consolidation in a few big players, as has happened in so many other places, with the smaller operators squeezed out? Hopefully policy and consumer choice will mean that the more diverse pattern that has arisen will continue to thrive.