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Southern African livestock farmers will miss out on new markets created by a growing demand for meat, unless international trade restrictions are adjusted to guarantee access to export markets.

These are the findings of an 18-month research project coordinated by the UK-based Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability (STEPS) Centre at the Institute for Development Studies.

The findings were presented at a workshop in Pretoria, South Africa, earlier this month (7–8 April).

Researchers assessed the common barriers that prevent farmers from participating in global livestock trade in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. They conducted policy research and initiated dialogue between policymakers to make recommendations on changes that could be made to give farmers access.

In a statement, Babagana Ahmadu, director for rural economy and agriculture for the African Union Commission, said a review of international "standard setting" policies in Africa was needed if the continent was ever to enjoy increased market access.

"At the African Union, we see a rethink of policies towards livestock production, disease management and control and trade as central to such efforts."

Ian Scoones, project coordinator and co-director of STEPS, told SciDev.Net that, in the past, international regulations required countries to declare that areas were totally free of certain diseases, including foot and mouth, before they could trade.

"In southern Africa, where foot and mouth disease is endemic due to the presence of buffalos and other game, creating areas where diseases are eliminated is difficult and very expensive." This has meant that much of Africa has been prevented from trading livestock products internationally, he says.

One of the key suggestions made by researchers was that export markets like Asia and the European Union should assess and regulate the safety of a product, such as meat or milk, rather than the disease status of the area that the product comes from.

Scoones says, that at the Pretoria workshop, the International Organisation for Animal Health — the key international standard setting body — confirmed that they were looking into updating standards to incorporate such an approach.

"This is a major step forward for Africa, and potentially can help open up expanding markets for meat to African producers."

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