Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the largest city in Bolivia, will host the first World Congress of Zebu Breeders, organised by the Bolivian Association of Zebu breeders (“ASOCEBU”), from 15 to 20 October. Bolivia’s livestock industry has boomed since the first Chinese investment arrived in 2018, with funds directed towards the improvement of genetic traceability, nutrition, animal welfare, transportation logistics and farm technology.
A cattle farmer from Santa Cruz explained, “Bolivia only started exporting meat 5 years ago; before we were not able to comply with certifications of quality and flavour, but now we have these certificates and we are competing with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. In particular, we have specialised in beef cattle, not milk, with our cows reaching 175 kg in 18 months.”
“Bolivia only started exporting meat 5 years ago […] but now […] we are competing with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.”
Cattle farmer, Santa Cruz, Bolivia
According to the Bolivian National Institute of Statistics, in 2021 Bolivia produced 213,450 tonnes of meat and exported to 12 countries, generating USD 102 million in sales. With China being the main importer, Bolivian breeders are trying to diversify their exports and, according to the Santa Cruz Breeders Federation (“Fegasacruz”), sales have been made to China, Russia, Peru, Ecuador, Hong Kong, DR Congo, Ivory Coast, Angola, Gabon and Ghana. Other countries like Japan, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and South Korea have expressed interest in acquiring Bolivian meat and are in talks with health authorities.
A former Bolivian diplomat described the work going on behind the scenes, “In 2017, after years of work, the Foreign Office took all the steps required to obtain the necessary certificates to allow Bolivian beef to enter international markets. China and Russia are the largest markets and this growth has enabled Bolivian businesses to invest into a growing market opportunity.”
“China and Russia are the largest markets and this growth has enabled Bolivian businesses to invest into a growing market opportunity.”
Former diplomat, Bolivia
The cattle farmer believes this is just the beginning, “The opportunity in China is what really interests us. Today we can only export the highest quality cuts of beef to China but we are trying to negotiate the delivery of cheap cuts too, such as beef mince. At the moment, millions of tons of this meat is present in Bolivia and is only sold locally for very low prices. If we can export that meat to China, our profit margins will soar!”
As always, growth doesn’t come easy and Bolivian breeders point at the local administration’s bureaucracy as the main obstacle for the growth of exports. Uncertainty over the obtention of certificates, slow administrative procedures and lack of clarity over exchange rates are just some of the barriers faced by local producers.
The cattle farmer faced other problems too, “The biggest problem is that the government has placed limits on exports. Only a small amount can be exported because the domestic market must be supplied first. President Arce knows the importance of agricultural exports because they bring in foreign exchange and generate growth, but he isn’t helping. As an industry we need to see growth before we can invest in the necessary infrastructure such as high-quality meat packing plants.”
The alarm shown by breeders was confirmed by the 2022 first quarter export figures published by the National Institute of Statistics, which revealed that meat exports actually fell 10.8% in value while milk exports increased by 80.8% compared to 2021.