‘Meat’ In The Middle: Can Chad Become A Livestock Exports Powerhouse?

Published 7 months ago
By Forbes Africa | Andrei Popoviciu 
Butchers cutting beef in slaughterhouse, wearing hygienic masks
As one of the top three African nations by livestock population, Chad wants to industrialize and emerge as a beef export powerhouse. (Source: Getty Images)

Slaughterhouses in the landlocked African nation are up for an upgrade but what, if anything, stands in the way of meat production becoming an effective economic and development tool for the nation. FORBES AFRICA finds out

At Chad’s newest and most modern slaughterhouse, precision is paramount as razor-sharp knives deftly transform cattle and mutton carcasses into premium cuts, from sirloin to ribeye, brisket, tenderloin, shanks, and ribs. Nothing goes to waste: bones succumb to the sharp metal claws of machines and are turned into dust, yielding animal feed, fat is refined into tallow for soap production, and even the skins are saved for consumption. The facility processes approximately 200 cattle and 400 sheep every day.

Dozens of Chadian butchers wearing pristine, white robes, rubber boots, protective glasses and caps, have been working at the site since it opened in February. The abattoir is situated in Moundou, Chad’s second-largest city and its industrial hub, about 400km south of the capital, N’Djamena. 

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The XAF20 billion ($32 million) investment by the government stands as the latest addition to the country’s growing arsenal of meat processing infrastructure, aimed at advancing its meat export capabilities. As one of the top three African nations by livestock population, boasting over 120 million heads, Chad wants to industrialize and emerge as a beef export powerhouse.

The country’s second source of income after oil, livestock amounts to about 18% of its GDP and supports nearly 40% of the population and provides a livelihood to more than 70% of the rural population, according to the African Development Bank. Currently, Chad exports 700,000 cattle and small ruminants per year, but most of that is done by herders on foot. 

“The breeding is not necessarily done for consumption in Chad,” says Abderahim Awat Atteib, the country’s minister of livestock and animal production. “It’s more of an economic and development tool — people rear cattle to sell.” 

With a saturated domestic livestock market, an underdeveloped meat processing sector and a lack of capabilities in exporting, the Chadian government has embarked on a partnership with a company in the private sector, Arise. Together, they are establishing seven special economic zones across the nation to develop its meat processing industry. To accomplish this, an estimated XAF220 billion ($361 million) are needed to be invested by 2035, Jacky Riviere, President of Arise Chad, tells FORBES AFRICA. 

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In 2022, the public-private alliance between Arise and the Chadian government gave birth to Laham Tchad, a co-owned company that would coordinate the industrialization. Arise holds a 65% stake and the Chadian government claims 35%. Their shared goal is to enhance meat processing infrastructure, much like the Moundou slaughterhouse, and promote international exports of locally grown and processed meat. Over the next decade, Laham Tchad envisions the opening of approximately five additional slaughterhouses in various regions of the country, according to Amarpreet Sidhu, the company’s director.

Chad plans to export the meat on an industrial scale to multiple destinations in the Middle East and Africa, both by land and air routes. A land transport has already been made to the Gabonese capital Libreville, and countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Congo, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, and Cameroon are also poised to receive their first transport by land if agreements are reached.

Meanwhile, Arab countries like Libya, Egypt, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates would receive their shipments via air routes. Egypt and Kuwait are anticipated to receive their first exports in the upcoming year.

Arise has committed to both worker training and the overall development of infrastructure within these economic zones. In parallel, the government will provide land and actively contribute to the industry’s advancement. For the past five years, Arise has also been working to develop Chad’s cotton industry under a similar agreement.

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At the Farcha slaughterhouse in the capital N’Djamena, things aren’t quite the same. Some of the meat processing is done similarly to how it was done in 1958, when the site was opened under French colonial rule. 

Herders then bring their product to be slaughtered for a fee, after which they come to pick it up to sell in the capital’s markets. Although there are about five other small abattoirs in the city, according to the head of the Farcha, they largely adopt a similar artisanal approach, performing most tasks on the ground. 

Laham Tchad, the company co-owned by the government and Arise, will eventually take over Farcha’s operations and modernize it while building another, more modern, slaughterhouse to serve the capital of N’Djamena. 

Despite dissatisfaction with the modernity of the site, Sidhu of Laham Tchad thinks it can be modernized and used while they build a new one. The capacity of Farcha could be instrumental in expanding exports, yet presently, it remains dedicated to the local market.

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The public-private partnership aims to generate employment opportunities, with an ambitious target of creating 45,000 jobs through industrialization. For the Moundou slaughterhouse, about 12 regional suppliers of livestock work with Laham Tchad. 

One of them is Maria Muhammad, a 37-year-old woman who tells FORBES AFRICA that the new abattoir has convinced her to breed cattle after previously only selling goats, sheep and other small livestock. The proximity of the site, which is about 100km from her native Doba, makes it easy for her to sell her livestock and expand her business. 

“Before, I was selling just in Chad, now my meat is exported,” says Muhammad.

In the city of Dourbali, about 100km south east of the capital, N’Djamena, another special economic zone is poised to develop. There, a local artisanal tannery has been struggling with its development. 

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Souleyman Bello, the president of the tannery in Dourbali, said they are craving industrialization. Operating an artisanal tannery doesn’t sustain salaries, and production costs and more modern machines and chemicals would change the game for them.

“Exporting would also be great but we don’t have the means and it’s hard to find clients abroad,” says Bello. “We need more tools to industrialize the production.”

Riviere of Arise says that tanneries in Dourbali are part of the infrastructure elements Laham Tchad wants to develop.

At the cattle market in Dourbali, Chadian herders also say they would welcome industrialization if it can help them sell their cattle domestically. Currently, the herders have to travel to Nigeria via Cameroon by foot to sell their cattle.

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“If we had a slaughterhouse here, we could sell the animals directly to them without traveling,” says Abakar Djabir, the president of the cattle market in Dourbali.

The cost of the trip to Nigeria and the dangers along the routes, where insurgent group, Boko Haram is present and has been involved in cattle raids, make it really difficult for sellers who often find their money and cattle stolen.

“There’s always risks during the export by foot,” Djabir says.

Chad’s security issues around the Lake Chad region, with Boko Haram groups and other jihadist factions a constant threat, as well as its rank as one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change, could pose serious challenges for the government’s plan to industrialize.

“It’s not easy to attract investors but it is the most stable country in the region at the moment,” says Riviere.

Nicole Ndoubayo, the Deputy Director of the Agency for the Administration of Special Economic Zones (AAZES) in Chad, tells FORBES AFRICA: “If we wait for security to stabilize, we’ll never industrialize.” 

She also believes that economic development can present a source of stability, as people will have access to jobs and the region’s infrastructure will be developed alongside its meat industry, which will prevent young people from feeling disenfranchised and lacking in economic opportunities. 

While some welcome industrialization, others are wary of the unintended consequences it could bring. The expansion of industrial zones has presented issues as the aggregation of land can create disputes among local communities. 

In an article published in April with French media  L’Humanité, Job Kidindo, national coordinator of the Alliance of Cooperatives and Mutuals of Chad (ACMT), says that “the problem of monopolization, the orders for the creation of the special economic zones taken in violation of the laws of the republic on land law, the absence of feasibility studies and environmental and social impacts” all present serious threats.

But Ndoubayo says that while “the people don’t own the land” because it’s public, “it’s important to take into account their grievances and what they want to happen around them.”

According to her and Laham Tchad’s Sidhu, a big pushback came from communities where the Moundou slaughterhouse operates, that see the foreign company as a threat. Information initiatives and liaisons between the communities have been established and the government is trying to better inform them about the benefits of industrialization. 

“We saw resistance but once we explained to people that it can benefit them as well, the perception started to shift towards the best,” says Ndoubayo who also stressed that these investments will bring, aside from jobs, access to electricity, water and new infrastructure.

While the country is still hampered by security risks and the impact of climate change, the industrialization of the meat sector is just starting. For cattle suppliers like Muhammad, it is clear that the current situation is “better than before”.

Whether Laham Tchad’s bet will succeed could depend on next year’s presidential elections and the management of some of its domestic challenges. In the end, that may be the deciding factor on whether or not investors take that leap of faith and buy into the Chadian meat market.