The High Value Beef Partnerships (High VBP) is a research-for-development project aiming to answer the question ‘Can high-value free-range beef products be developed from cattle from smallholder farms to cost-effectively meet the preferences of South African beef consumers?’

In 2016, there were 13.6 million head of cattle in South Africa, with 42% (5.7 million head) owned by smallholder (individual and communal) farmers. However these farmers market less than 10% of their animals each year, considerably lower than the estimated 25% turn-off by South Africa’s commercial beef farmers. So whilst cattle owned by smallholder farmers represent an important asset for South Africa, they currently contribute only 5% to South Africa’s GDP from beef, providing a very significant opportunity for improvement.

This project is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and is implemented by a large number of partner organisations from South Africa and Australia, led by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) in South Africa and the University of New England (UNE) from Australia.

High Value Beef Project

The research is being undertaken in partnership with Woolworths, a high-end commercial department store and food retailer and two free-range accredited collaborating abattoirs nominated by Woolworths (Cavalier Meats in Gauteng and Cradock Abattoir in Eastern Cape). The project is working with smallholder and communal beef farmers across six South African provinces (Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West) to help them supply a rapidly expanding market for high-value, free-range beef from animals slaughtered up to 3 years of age (1-2 years older than cattle which supply South Africa’s traditional grain-fed beef markets).

Additional cutting-edge research is focused on identifying the key factors that impact on the success of individual and communal farmers, farmer co-operatives, abattoirs and retailers throughout the two beef value chains. It is also developing and evaluating cost-effective on-farm production systems and new ways to customise interventions for farmers to enable them to maximise their uptake of proven technologies and improve their farm business performance.

The overall goal of the project is to improve the profitability of smallholder (individual and communal) farmers in South Africa by developing cost-effective and environmentally sustainable beef value chains that supply cattle to meet the specifications of high-value, free-range beef markets.

The project has three inter-dependent objectives:

1. To improve on-farm animal health, nutrition, management and breeding systems to enable smallholder farmers to cost-effectively deliver high-value, free-range beef, whilst simultaneously improving their natural resource base.

This involves training farmers in best-practice herd management, researching and developing new farm management systems, undertaking on-farm participative action research to evaluate alternative systems and analysing project data to identify the factors that have the greatest impact on animal and farm business performance, to improve cattle supply for free-range markets.

2. To improve the profitability of all sectors of the project’s beef value chains through increased adoption of proven interventions by farmers and implementation of practices that create efficiencies and effectiveness across the entire value chains.

This involves analysing the project’s behaviour change, value chain and women’s empowerment research surveys to identify areas of improvement and to design and evaluate customised strategies that will increase adoption of proven interventions and overcome inequities such as those based on gender, age, education level and primary language.

3. To develop a wide range of scaling out strategies and guidelines that enable application of the project’s results to other agricultural value chains.

Each of these objectives is supported by research teams who work collaboratively to meet project goals in the following broad themes:

  • Animal production and health
  • Animal nutrition and rangeland management
  • Female reproductive performance
  • Meat science and compliance with free-range market specifications
  • Beef value chain evaluations
  • Farm business performance and farmer behaviour change
  • Gender, linguistics and overcoming farmer inequities
  • Adoption and scaling out & monitoring and evaluation