Tuesday 27 September 2016

Irish company beefs up its business

Published 09/12/2015 | 02:30

Deon Johann, Zambeef's general manager in Nigeria.
Deon Johann, Zambeef's general manager in Nigeria.

Deon Johann is a South African that was recruited by the Irish-owned company Zambeef in the last three months. After one month of training at Zambeef's farming headquarters in Zambia, the ex-military man was posted to manage the company's flailing Nigerian operation.

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Zambeef have built much of their huge farming operations on the back of partnership with a retail chain called Shoprite. When they asked Zambeef to provide beef for their expansion into Nigeria 10 years ago, Zambeef simply had to acquiesce for the sake of the trading relationship. A decade later, the company still hasn't succeeded in farming more than 30ac of the 750ac farm that they took on a 25 year lease. It is located about 30km north of Lagos.

Until recently it had feedlot capacity for just 125 animals. However, this was the first feedlot in Nigeria, and compared to the local killing and handling practices in the sprawling warrens that make up the market-scene in cities like Lagos, the Zambeef slaughter plant was a world-class operation.

"This is a country that only has about 10 shopping malls, despite a population of 185 million. It's only in the last three to four years that Shoprite's 15 supermarkets have really got traction here, but they are talking about opening one a month over the next year, so things are beginning to ramp up fast," said Mr Johann.

Beef production standards are much lower than European norms. Cattle are often walked for days on end to slaughter plants, with little regard for feeding, hydration or bruising or marking. The animal pictured left is 2.5-3 years old, and will weigh about 380kg. They are bought for about €5/kg liveweight, while stewing meat sells in the shops for about €10/kg. "Nigerians actually prefer tougher cuts, with little value placed on fillets compared to the hump, skins and even feet," explained Mr Johann.

Following the kidnapping of the last manager at the Zambeef farm, management are afraid to live on site, preferring the 1.5 hour long daily commute each way from Lagos. The ex-army man is "comfortable about looking after himself", and he has big plans for the farm. However, first he will need to convince the locals to stop cutting the perimeter wires to graze their cattle.

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