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The South African Horse Industry: A Potential Billion Rand Market

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The gentle sea breeze, the glint of classic cars, swaying sugarcane plantations, and horses trotting around – while this might seem like the description of a picture postcard, this is the everyday life of Viju Gowreesunkur, an entrepreneur in the island nation of Mauritius.

This sugarcane planter, who has a vintage car collection that is the pride of the island, also knows a thing or two about horses. He grew up with them, and today, even owns a few.

Mauritius occupies a significant place in Africa’s horse industry. The country boasts an average racing population of 450 horses, and has an important equestrian link with South Africa. All of the nation’s racehorse imports – 150 every year – come from South Africa.

“A lot of South African jockeys ride in Mauritius. The traveling time to Mauritius is only three hours by air. The horses adapt well with our climate. A lot of South Africans are immigrating to Mauritius, and horse racing can be a main social activity for the expatriates,” sums up Gowreesunkur.

READ MORE: Racing Into History

In South Africa, the horseracing industry contributes R2.71 billion ($226 million) annually to its GDP. Efforts are on to ramp up those numbers.

And as with the expatriates taking to horse racing in Mauritius, here too, it’s no longer the pastime of only the privileged few.

“These days, horse racing is no longer the domain of royalty, and with this shift came the glorious possibility that anything is possible and that the richest races could be won just as easily by a working man as by a multi-millionaire,” says Adrian Todd, Managing Director of SA Equine Health and Protocols NPC, in South Africa.

Mick Goss, the CEO of Summerhill Stud in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, says while owning racehorses can be an aspirational endeavor, it can also arise from a deep-seated connectivity with animals in general, or horses in particular.

“The result is that racehorses are owned by people from across the social and economic spectra, from the wealthy to the determined,” says Goss. In its 40th year, Summerhill Stud is one of the country’s top horse breeders, and it has produced several champion racehorses.

Approximate annual cost to maintain a horse on a styud farm in South Africa: $5,000. Photo supplied.

Goss had humble beginnings starting the stud farm. He came from a family of generations of horsemen and was previously a lawyer, when after 17 years, he gave up law to start out with nothing in the horse business but “a deep-seated will to make it work”.

“I inherited the horse ‘disease’, for which there is no known vaccine,” he jests.

Today, his farm runs a school of management excellence in equine studies, the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere, he says, and the results have been “extraordinary”.

Goss says South Africa is set for a record year.

“2018 will be a game-changing year,” he says, with respect to the efforts now being made to rejig the racing and breeding industries “with substantial investments towards the normalization of export protocols with international trading partners”.

There is significant demand for South Africa-based horses in the international market for their quality and affordability. A case in point being that in the past, at the $10 million Dubai World Cup, the richest day in international thoroughbred racing held in March every year, South African-trained horses have won at many levels.

“We have produced winners at the highest level in almost all of the major racing jurisdictions of the world. It is little surprise that our horses are as sought -after as they are internationally, more so as they cost a fraction of their counterparts from other major racehorse-producing countries,” says Goss.

But there are challenges, including strict export restrictions, quarantine controls and prevalence of the African Horse Sickness (AHS).

“The current onerous export restrictions make it difficult for the racing and breeding industry to expand and very hard for our horses to travel and compete internationally,” says Todd.

The country has been severely curtailed in its ability to export horses due to AHS.

South African horses have to endure a quarantine of up to six months before they reach their country of destination.

“Compare this with the delivery of 30 days of horses acquired in countries like Australia and New Zealand, destined for South Africa,” says Goss. “From this, you can deduce the obstacles South African horse people face in the export of their products.”

AHS is a vector-borne viral disease, and has affected South African horse exports since the 1960s.

Goss says he has only suffered one loss to AHS in 40 years on his farm, but says, if properly managed, the losses can be avoided.

“Proliferation of game farms around the country has meant concentrations of zebra in close proximity to horse farms, which has exacerbated the problem,” says Goss.

“The reason is many zebras are carriers of the virus, though they have an inbuilt immunity against it, and while the disease itself is not contagious, it can be carried from one animal to another by a vector.”

Thankfully, there have been breakthroughs in its detection.

“The latest technologies mean that we are able to detect AHS within a matter of hours nowadays and with the quarantine protocols we now have in place, we can guarantee we are unlikely ever to export infected horses,” says Goss.

READ: Love The Mountain Hate The Horse

“With new scientific developments and a new Polymerase Chain Reaction test to detect AHS within hours, South Africa is busy working towards a much shorter period of quarantine of possibly 16 days. This will obviously open the door to the world market and allow the entire horse industry to grow to its full potential,” says Todd.

This test has been developed by Professor Alan Guthrie and colleagues at the Faculty of Veterinary Science’s Equine Research Centre in the University of Pretoria, which has improved the lab diagnosis of AHS by increasing the sensitivity of detection and shortening the time required for the diagnosis.

Equine experts like Todd are optimistic the strides taken by the industry will make this year more successful for the horse industry.

Currently, horses are exported from Cape Town’s Kenilworth Racecourse, which serves as a quarantine, transit and export station. The horses are required to serve a three-month quarantine period in Mauritius on top of the three weeks already spent in quarantine in Cape Town, before going on to their final destination.

“The opening of export protocols will allow the industry to unlock a potential billion rand market. This in turn will lead to an expansion of the industry and a significant increase in rural employment…,” says Todd.

The platforms and opportunities are plenty.

In December, FORBES AFRICA visited the Turffontein Racecourse in the southern suburbs of Johannesburg for the glitzy Gauteng Sansui Summer Cup. Dating back 128 years, and along with the Durban July and the Sun Met in Cape Town, it’s one of the big three races on the South African horse racing calendar, with a prize money of R1.25 million ($104,373) up for grabs.

In South Africa, horse-lovers come from all walks of life.

“From rural communities who use horses for transport, to families who buy ponies for their children to ride for fun, to show jumpers and wealthy [South African] businessmen like Dr Richard Maponya who loves horseracing,” elaborates Peter Gibson, the CEO of Racing South Africa.

Prices range greatly depending on the breed and what it will be used for, but buying a thoroughbred racehorse could set you back by an average of over R300,000 ($25,000).

Furthermore, it takes R50,000 ($4,000) to R60,000 ($5,000) a year to maintain a horse on a stud farm.

“Thoroughbred studs are cash guzzlers, and you need to surround yourself with people that are capable of contributing towards the capital needs of the business by way of their support as clients, as well as developing strong relationships with the financial institutions that support you,” says Goss.

“The horse breeding and racing industries by their very nature are among the most labor-intensive activities in South Africa, and according to a recent audit of the industry by Grant Thornton, it employs in excess of 100,000 people, either directly or in those businesses that provide services to racing and breeding.”

Hopefully, in the years to come, the “cash guzzlers” will repay the favor, in leaps and bounds.

Economy

Ford and IBM among quartet in Congo cobalt blockchain project

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 Carmaker Ford (F.N), technology giant IBM (IBM.N), South Korean cathode maker LG Chem (051910.KS) and China’s Huayou Cobalt (603799.SS) have joined forces in the first blockchain project to monitor cobalt supplies from Democratic Republic of Congo.

The pilot, overseen by responsible-sourcing group RCS Global, aims to help manufacturers ensure that cobalt used in lithium-ion batteries has not been mined by children or used to fuel conflict.

Companies are under pressure from consumers and investors to prove that minerals are sourced without human rights abuses, but tracking raw materials throughout their journey is challenging.

The project announced on Wednesday has been quietly under way since December. Starting with industrially mined cobalt in Congo, it is monitoring supplies all the way to lithium-ion batteries for Ford vehicles.

Supplies of cobalt, expected to be needed in huge quantities for electric vehicles and electronic devices, are concentrated in Congo, a sprawling, volatile nation that has been racked by civil war and political tension.

The outcome of elections in December, which had been intended to be Congo’s first democratic transfer of power in six decades, is contested.

RCS says the IBM blockchain platform could be used to include other minerals and to allow artisanal miners, which analysts say are the biggest issue with regard to ethical sourcing, to join a blockchain-based network of validated participants.

Blockchain, famed as the technology behind cryptocurrency bitcoin, works by providing a shared record of data held by a network of individual computers rather than a single party.

For the pilot project, which should be completed around the middle of the year, cobalt from Huayou’s industrial mine will be placed in secure bags, entered into a blockchain and traced from the mine and smelter to LG Chem’s cathode and battery plant in South Korea and then on to a Ford plant in the United States.

Because minerals are often combined with metals from various sources when they are smelted, they are particularly difficult to track.

The RCS project seeks to enforce best practice by using guidelines drawn up by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

IBM said it was exploring the potential of chemical analysis using artificial intelligence to pinpoint the origin of cobalt and ensure so-called clean cobalt was not smelted with minerals sourced less responsibly.

“There is no fool-proof method, but you have to keep the ball moving forward, to keep raising the level of accuracy,” Manish Chawla, general manager of IBM’s mining and industrial sector business, told Reuters.

VW and Ford team up

“Blockchain has been proven to be a very effective technology in raising the bar.”

IBM has already worked with retailers including Walmart (WMT.N) and Carrefour (CARR.PA) to trace food through supply chains.

In the mining sector, meanwhile, Anglo American’s (AAL.L) De Beers has begun using blockchain to track diamonds. -Reuters

Barbara Lewis

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Economy

150 percent price rise fails to fill Zimbabwe’s fuel pumps

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A drastic 150 percent overnight rise in Zimbabwe’s fuel prices failed on Sunday to ease a nationwide petrol and diesel shortage caused by a lack of hard currency.

Most service stations still had no fuel to sell to motorists who have been sleeping in their vehicles to queue. Some said they were awaiting an official notice from the regulatory authority (ZERA).

Deputy Information Minister Energy Mutodi tweeted that commodity price volatility “will be temporary before goods prices normalize”.

The acute shortage of U.S. dollars has made it hard for President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to import not only fuel but also drugs and other goods.

Mnangagwa himself was on Sunday setting off on a five-nation tour that starts in Russia and ends at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Zimbabwe abandoned its own currency in 2009 after it was wrecked by hyperinflation, and adopted the greenback and other hard currencies such as sterling and the South African rand.

But now there is not enough hard currency to back up more than $10 billion in electronic funds trapped in local bank accounts, prompting demands from businesses and civil servants for cash that can be deposited and used to make payments.

Mnangagwa has said his government will not let businesses raise prices but they have been doing so anyway, arguing that they have no choice but to buy dollars at a premium on the black market.

Inflation is already at a 10-year high of 31 percent and, in the past two weeks, public transport firms have tripled fares citing a shortage of fuel, which some have been buying on the black market.

An assistant at a service station owned by Zuva Petroleum said: “We have not received any supplies since Thursday evening but we are hoping we will get a delivery before end of the day.”

A ZERA spokesman said all fuel companies had been notified of the new prices.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) said it planned a national strike from Monday in protest at the “insensitive and provocative” fuel price increase, although such calls have in the past not been widely followed.

Teachers, who are not represented by ZCTU, are planning a nationwide strike from Jan. 22, and civil servants have threatened to join them. -Reuters

  • MacDonald Dzirutwe

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Economy

World Bank Sees Global Growth Slowing In 2019

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The growth of the global economy is expected to slow to 2.9 percent in 2019 compared with 3 percent in 2018, the World Bank said on Tuesday, citing elevated trade tensions and international trade moderation.

“At the beginning of 2018 the global economy was firing on all cylinders, but it lost speed during the year and the ride could get even bumpier in the year ahead,” World Bank Chief Executive Officer Kristalina Georgieva said in the semi-annual Global Economic Prospects report here.

The World Bank outlook comes as the United States and China have been engaged in a bitter trade dispute, which has jolted financial markets across the world for months. The two economies have imposed tit-for-tat duties on each other’s goods, although there were signs of progress on Tuesday as the two countries prepared to enter a third day of talks in Beijing.

Growth in the United States is likely to slow to 2.5 percent this year from 2.9 percent in 2018, while China is expected to grow at 6.2 percent in the year compared with 6.5 percent in 2018, according to the World Bank.

Emerging market economies are expected to grow at 4.2 percent this year, with advanced economies expected to grow at 2 percent, the World Bank said in the report. -Reuters

  • Kanishka Singh

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