BUSINESS DAY TV: South Africa’s livestock farmers are having a very difficult time at the moment, but the expectation for our game industry appears to be a lot better. Absa’s Agri Economist Ernst Janovsky said recently that local game farmers should be making hay and joining us now on News Leader to share her views on the outlook for the sector, is Adri Kitshoff-Botha CEO at Wildlife Ranching SA.
Adri, with the rand where it is at the moment, should this be a fantastic time for South Africa’s game industry?
ADRI KITSHOFF-BOTHA: I believe it would be because the South African game industry depends a lot on the consumptive tourism side of it which is hunting. Non-consumptive is basically game viewing and photographic safaris. Consumptive hunting and of course there are international hunters visiting South Africa, the current situation where the rand is excellent so that should be a boost for the game ranching industry in South Africa.
BDTV: How important a future is hunting, and I guess what percentage of the whole game sector does it make?
AKB: Hunting is extremely important. As I said it’s a tourist activity for a game ranch and depending on what the game rancher’s priorities are, if his priority is in breeding practices, then the hunting side of it won’t play that big a part. But for most of the game farmers in South Africa, they depend on the income from hunting and we’ve seen from studies done by North West University that there is this constant growth in hunting in South Africa, over the past 10 years it’s grown constantly. And if we look at the income from hunting, both from the South African local hunters as well as your international hunters visiting South Africa, it’s an almost R9bn economy that thrives within the game ranching business.
BDTV: So you’re talking about R9bn annually?
AKB: Yearly — and what we’ve seen in the studies is not that hunting has increased so much but also the direct expenditure that’s linked to hunting. If you take a South African for instance going hunting, the added value would be ammunition, firearms and everything that goes along with arranging a hunting trip.
BDTV: Okay, but it is actually — R9bn is a lot of money but according to Absa the whole wildlife industry has a total estimated turnover of almost R123bn, so it’s actually only a small sliver of that. So it’s a huge industry. Do you think it’s going to get bigger, especially the kind of drought conditions we’re experiencing in South Africa, do you think there’ll be more of a shift towards game farming rather than livestock and crop production?
AKB: Since the early 1990s, we’ve already seen — since 1991, we’ve already seen a stream from conventional farmers that either integrate with game ranching or change over to game ranching. As we know the agricultural side and conventional farming is becoming more challenging every day. So the profitability of the game ranching side is a good enough reason for a lot of conventional farmers to consider optional land use and that would be game ranching. And yes, we’ve seen in weather conditions with game ranching, that it’s obviously a lot more adaptable to severe conditions, we’ve seen it again now with the drought. But the challenges on the agricultural side are becoming more, and the profitability is a risk for them.
BDTV: If you talk about risks, what are the risks for the game industry in South Africa?
AKB: If I think about the game industry risks I can’t help but think about legal frameworks, policies and many times lack of policies. For instance if you compare your conventional farmer with a game farmer, where game farmers I’ve been told, their rates and taxes or property rates are eight times more than a conventional farmer. They also don’t get the subsidies that a conventional farmer receives. So it leaves a question of where should game ranchers actually fall, under agriculture or under environmental affairs.
BDTV: Where do they fall at the moment?
AKB: At the moment they fall under environmental affairs. So unless there is within environmental affairs maybe a real specification as to where game farming resides, I could see that as a very big risk, the lack of clarity at the moment.
BDTV: Okay so that’s something to consider in 2016. What about some of the opportunities, where do they lie?
AKB: We have massive opportunities. South Africa’s game ranching industry is the biggest in the world for privately owned game and the opportunities we have range from transformation — we’ve got this wonderful asset which is wildlife and if we can empower and transfer skills to people out there to improve their livelihoods and to take part and use this beautiful asset we have in South Africa, that is the opportunity that we totally strategise for. And then of course game meat production, at the moment we produce about 120,000 — 150,000 tons of game meat in South Africa but very little is being exported. So if we could manage, and this is a massive opportunity, to get game meat onto the shelves in our local supermarkets and then to export. New Zealand for instance exports R4bn worth of venison a year, imagine what we can do in South Africa.
BDTV: Why hasn’t it happened, because surely we’ve had the game industry for a long time, we’ve got the resources, we have got routes to markets, export markets — South African farmers don’t produce in an isolated bubble, why hasn’t it happened?
AKB: Theres still an issue with lack of clarity regarding the legislation. The Department of Agriculture needs to finalise the legislation regarding the Game Meat Scheme and the Game Meat Act to safely produce game meat for use out there in South Africa and abroad. So the Wildlife Ranching Association of South Africa has been involved over the past years with the Department of Agriculture and we certainly hope that it is one of the things that we will attend to seriously in the coming year to get that going. It’s an opportunity that we just cannot say no to.
BDTV: It does sound as if it’s ripe for the picking. As far as an employer, how big is the game ranching industry in South Africa — could it be a potentially viable employer especially in a very tricky economy which are seeing at the moment?
AKB: Absolutely — job security, food security — we already play a huge role in the game ranching industry, actually the wildlife ranching industry, the full value chain already gives jobs to more than 100,000 people, a number of 140,000 was quoted. So if we would embark on projects like a game production scheme that could grow and become bigger, especially in the rural areas. And if you take into account that he jobs within the game ranching industry, the remuneration is so much higher than in your conventional farming because there are special skills needed when it comes to hunting and hospitality and so on. But we can only see that especially if we start with game meat production, the number of jobs that would be added to areas where they’re desperately needed will be massive.
BDTV: Let’s hope that maybe this is a good news story for 2016.
BUSINESS DAY TV:
Adri Kitshoff-Botha is CEO of Wildlife Ranching SA