Live Export

Opinion: Indonesia’s words, deeds on imports might move in different directions

Jon Condon, 16/12/2011


Politics being what it is in Indonesia, yesterday’s news that the nation plans to limit live cattle imports next year to 283,000 head must be taken with a grain of salt.

Beef Central’s exclusive on the news published yesterday afternoon has been widely picked-up by other metropolitan and regional media in the succeeding 12 hours. 

Indonesia’s stated aim of achieving self-sufficiency in beef production by 2014 has produced some recent herd growth statistics (through a national census conducted earlier this year) that observers say are highly optimistic at best, and fanciful at worst.

Much of Indonesia’s current projections on demand for imported cattle for next year and beyond are based on these statistics, indicating an unlikely national herd of just over 15 million head, dairy cows included. Authorities are projecting a ‘sustainable’ slaughter supply of about 2.5 million head of domestic cattle next year – deemed to be sufficient to generate 400,000 tonnes of beef for local consumption.

Government calculations arrived at a requirement for an additional 85,000t of imported beef, or livestock equivalent, in order to meet local demand in 2012. That’s based on an average beef consumption of 2kg/person/year, up from around 1.6kg this year.

The ‘shortfall’ figure has been used to determine the 2012 quota allowance of 280,000 Australian cattle, and 35,000t of boxed beef.    

As always, recent history provides a good indication of how things might actually unfold during 2012.

Late last year (2010), Indonesian authorities indicated that total import permits might be issued for only about 350,000 cattle for 2011. As the year progressed, however, quarterly import permit allocations gradually increased, as it became apparent that there would be a serious deficit in Indonesian feedlots and in the wet market.

If it had not been for the Australian Federal Government-enforced market closure mid-year, total Australian exports to Indonesia this year would have gone closer to the eventual 2011 quota of 520,000 head, many believe. That’s a long way from the original forecast quota of 350,000 head.
Northern Australia can expect to see similar ‘adjustments’ occur in Indonesia’s quarterly import permits in 2012, as reality sets in.

One of recurrent themes emerging from Indonesia over the past 24 hours has been references to breeding females as a long-term import focus, as opposed to feeder cattle.

There have also been recent Indonesian media references to prospects for nations like Korea and Brazil to invest in the country’s livestock breeding sector. Agriculture Minister Suswono was reported as saying the Indonesian government was listing potential land to develop cattle breeding operations outside Java, including the province of West Papua.

There has been a history of small numbers of Australian breeding females being live exported to Indonesia for at least the past 20 years, under the ‘philosophical’ desire to build local breeding capacity.

Without exception, these have been abject failures, limited by poor husbandry, poor nutrition and limited breeding opportunity. The old Suharto regime set up its 'Nuclear Plasma’ breeding scheme back in early 1990s with virtually no success.

Similar ‘Transmigration’ schemes were used to relocate smallholders with a few head of breeding cattle from one part of the country to another, basically carving an existence out of the forest in many cases. None of those projects lasted more than a few years, despite their good intentions.  

As Indonesia’s economy and population continues to expand, urban growth and alternate land use would continue to put further pressure on grazing areas and local breeding capacity, local contacts say.

Predictably, yesterday’s announcement has been celebrated as a ‘victory’ by some of the more extreme animal welfare groups, like Animals Australia.

AA issued a statement this morning suggesting the move points to the volatility within the live export trade, but signalling ‘little reprieve’ for animals.

Australia's live export industry was already increasing the number of animals being sent into other markets including the Middle East, Egypt and Turkey — where, like Indonesia, animals are ‘permitted to be brutally slaughtered while fully conscious,’ AA executive director Glenys Oogjes said.

"Despite public opposition, the live export industry continues to expand its trade into new markets with the full knowledge that the routine slaughter practices in importing countries fall well below the standards expected by the Australian community,” she said.


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