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Meat is a big deal across Africa.

This may come as a surprise given the proportion of people who live in poverty on the continent. But the truth is, when it comes to meat consumption in Africa, the key difference between those who live below the poverty line, and those who live above it, is the type of meat they eat.

Meat has a high nutritional relevance in African diets because it is one of the most available sources of animal protein and essential amino acids.

While the type of meat Africans eat is highly influenced by cost and availability, other strong factors are tastes, preferences, cultural and religious beliefs.

So, every year Africans spend billions of dollars on all kinds of meat products, and according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, a key agency of the United Nations, consumption of meat in Africa will grow from its current size of 10.5 million tons to 35 million tons by 2050. That’s a jump of nearly 150 percent!

As an entrepreneur, why should you be interested in the future of the meat market in Africa?

You see, over the next three decades, Africa will have the world’s fastest growing population. With a current population of just over 1billion people, this number is projected to double in size to 2.2 billion people by 2050. As a result, Africa will experience a significant growth in demand for meat and is expected to become a net importer of a wide range of meat products.

It’s not just the size and projected growth of Africa’s population that will boost the consumption of meat products in Africa. There’s a stronger economic factor at play too. With growing economies, a strong emerging middle class, and rising income levels, more Africans will be able to afford meat in the coming years.

In this article, I’ll explore the main categories of meat consumed across Africa today, and what the future holds for them. The good news is, the current demand levels for meat, and the expected explosive growth in demand for meat products provide significant business opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors to enter the livestock and meat production market in Africa.

Note: Throughout this article, the term ‘meat’ refers to all forms of animal flesh and sources of ‘non-plant’ protein.

Let’s meet the meats…

1) Beef

Top 8 Meats in Africa -- Beef -- Smallstarter Africa

The United States is the largest producer of beef in the world, followed by Brazil and the European Union. Together, these 3 global beef powerhouses produce nearly 50 percent of the world’s beef, and will likely be the largest sources of beef consumed in Africa over the next few decades.

Unlike in these developed markets where beef production is largely mechanized and driven by scientific research, large-scale commercial interests and technological innovations, most beef in Africa is produced by rural livestock farmers who have been herding cattle for generations.

These livestock farmers usually rely on crude open grazing and nomadic methods to grow their cattle. As a result, African cattle typically yields suboptimal results when compared to beef produced in developed markets.

Worse still, the rising rate of rural-urban migration across Africa means that the number of rural cattle herders could significantly dwindle over the coming decades. And unless an aggressive commercial approach to beef production is embraced across the continent, a significant volume of beef consumed in Africa will be imported from abroad.

Currently, the biggest markets on the continent like Nigeria and South Africa import live cattle and beef products from their neighbours. In supermarkets and retail stores in both countries, imported beef products from Latin America, the US and Europe are a common sight. As more consumers shift from buying beef in open-air markets to organized retail stores, foreign beef will likely continue to dominate the African market unless something changes.

And really, this is sad because Africa has the land, labour and water resources to become a global leader in beef production. In addition to meeting our own needs for beef in the future, Africa has the capacity to become a net-exporter of beef products to the world.

Beef will be an interesting product to watch as Africa progresses into the future.

2) Fish

Top 8 Meats in Africa -- Fish -- Smallstarter Africa

Fish is an important food for over 600 million Africans, contributing essential proteins, Omega-3 fatty acids, minerals and micronutrients to their diets. While global per-capita fish consumption stands at 18.9kg, in Africa it’s just about 9kg per person per year.

Even though fish consumption is low on the continent (when compared to the global average), Africa is projected to need an additional 4.2 million tons of fish by 2030 to maintain its current levels of consumption.

Africa’s fish supply comes from two major sources: wild fish capture by local fisherman, and imported fish from international ocean trawlers. In fact, countries like Nigeria spend up to $500 million on fish imports annually.

However, according to the FAO’s The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) report, almost a third of commercial fish stocks are now fished at biologically unsustainable levels. This sad reality is not only happening in the world’s oceans, capture of wild fisheries in Africa’s lakes and rivers have reached their production limits too. In East Africa for example, catches of fresh fish from Lake Malawi have declined by over 90 percent in recent years.

But there is hope for the future of fish supply in Africa. And this hope comes from aquaculture; the commercial farming of fish. With this option, Africa can produce as much fish as it needs and doesn’t have to depend on wild capture from rivers and oceans.

And aquaculture is making significant progress across Africa. In fact, since 2000, while the volume of wild capture fisheries in Africa has stagnated around 7 million tons, aquaculture has been growing at a steady average rate of 11 percent, which is really impressive!

Currently, the most commonly farmed fish varieties are local species like Tilapia and Catfish. Africa’s top 10 biggest players in the aquaculture industry are Egypt, Uganda, Nigeria, Zambia, Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania, and Ivory Coast.

3) Chicken

Top 8 Meats in Africa -- Chicken -- Smallstarter Africa

Chicken is one of the fastest rising stars to watch on Africa’s meat scene. Across the continent, the demand for chicken is growing really fast and significantly outstrips local supply.

While consumption rates for chicken vary on the continent — from 6.6kg per capita in Ghana to 37kg in South Africa – the growth potential for the chicken market in Africa is really huge.

Apart from Africa’s large population and favourable economic factors that influence the growth of Africa’s meat market, there’s something ‘extra’ that’s pushing the growing demand for chicken meat on the continent.

It’s a cultural trend that’s leading to tastes, preferences and choices that favour chicken meat.

And this cultural trend is driven by the growing number of hotels, restaurants and fast food chains opening up in cities across Africa. Apart from local franchises like Chicken Republic in Nigeria and Nandos in South Africa, there is an influx of global brands like KFC and McDonald’s to Africa.  And chicken is usually the most popular item on the menu of these food businesses.

However, while the demand for chicken meat is exploding across Africa, the market supply is currently dominated by imported chicken from Brazil, the US, Europe and China. Due to inefficient production methods and the high operating costs faced by local producers – especially for feed, drugs and energy – the prices of locally produced chicken in Africa is uncompetitive. In many cases, imported chicken meat can be up to 40 percent cheaper than local chicken.

For those smart entrepreneurs who can crack the code of local chicken production in Africa, there are billions of dollars to be made. And that’s why chicken will be one of the most interesting candidates to watch on Africa’s meat market as we enter an exciting future.

4) Snail

Top 8 Meats in Africa -- Snail -- Smallstarter Africa

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Snails? Really?

Yes, snails. Really.

While snails don’t yet have the rockstar status of beef, fish and chicken, these slow guys are definitely on the fast lane to the top.

Snail meat is a popular delicacy in several parts of Africa, and its high protein, low fat and cholesterol content make snails a nutritional favourite for health-conscious consumers. In fact, snail meat contains almost all the amino acids needed by the human body. And in several African cities, and during certain times of the year, snail meat can become much more expensive than beef, fish and chicken.

West Africa is home to the largest species of land snail in the world. The Giant African land snail (Achatina species), is known to grow up to 30cm in length and can be found in the dense tropical rain forests across the region from Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Ghana to Nigeria.

For hundreds of years, Africa’s appetite for snails has been served through wild capture. Snails handpicked from the bush (usually in the dead of the night) have been the only way to get snails to the market and dinner table.

However, as Africa’s population explodes and our forests continue to be sacrificed to build cities, the (bush) supply of snails cannot keep up with the soaring demand. And this trend has created an opportunity in the market for snail breeders and farmers who now cultivate these interesting creatures on small farms.

Nwapa Farms in Ghana is arguably one of the biggest commercial snail farms on the continent and will benefit from the concentrated and growing demand for snail meat in West and Central Africa.

And in parts of Africa where snail meat isn’t quite popular, entrepreneurs like Kenya’s Rosemary Odinga are leading the charge into new and exciting market opportunities for snail meat in East Africa.

5) Pork

Top 8 Meats in Africa -- Pork -- Smallstarter Africa

Many people don’t know this but pork is the most widely eaten meat in the world. Yes, pork accounts for over 36 percent of the world’s meat consumption, and is followed by poultry (35 percent) and beef (25 percent).

In Africa, pork consumption is growing, but is not yet as high as the global average. However, the growing demand for pork on the continent are interesting signs to watch. In fact, the FAO estimates that the consumption of pork in Africa will grow by an average of 3.3 percent until 2050.

In South Africa, pork has overtaken lamb/mutton as the more favourite meat following a 59 percent rise in pig production. While South Africa is Africa’s biggest pork producer – with over 245,000 metric tons per year – it, like many countries on the continent, still imports pork from Europe and North America.  Other top producers of pork on the continent are Angola, the Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda and several others.

Another interesting example is Morocco, an overwhelmingly Muslim country. Moroccan pig production is increasing to cater to the demand of millions of tourists (especially Europeans) who visit the North African nation every year.

It’s quite interesting that the major pig farmers in Morocco are Muslims and Jews (who do not consume pork for religious reasons). This interesting trend is sure to continue as Africa’s cities grow to accommodate more foreign tastes.

6) Insects

Yes, you read that right. Insects.

Many people just don’t realise how critical insects are as a source of protein, especially for people who live below the poverty line. Africans have been eating insects for hundreds of years. Contrary to common Western belief, insect-eating is not a barbaric or primitive behavior.

If you’re in any doubt, maybe you should watch this short documentary below:

In fact, edible insects are actually a healthier alternative to red meat, and can contain up to three times more protein than beef and chicken. Several edible insects – like crickets, locusts, termites, worms and larva – contain between 30 to 70 percent protein (with many essential amino acids) and the ‘good’ fatty acids.

There are over 1,500 varieties of edible insects across Africa. Given the continent’s tropical climate, it’s no surprise that insects abundantly thrive here. As the price of beef, chicken and fish continue to rise across the world, a huge opportunity has emerged for insects to fill this market gap and meet the animal protein needs of mankind and livestock, now and in the future.

But is there really any money to be made from insects as a meat product?

You’ll be surprised how much money people actually spend on edible insects.

In Southern Africa for example, the annual trade value of the Mopane worm, a popular edible insect in that region, is over $85 million. And that’s just one insect. If you add up the huge volumes of termites, crickets and grasshoppers that are consumed across Africa every year, the overall trade value is huge!

As insect eating gains wider acceptance, especially in Europe, USA and Canada, there is a huge opportunity for Africa to exploit the growing global demand for healthy animal protein alternatives. And the continent can really cash in on this new and exciting market.

7) Rabbit

Top 8 Meats in Africa -- Rabbit -- Smallstarter Africa

Photo credit: News Day Zimbabwe

More than 700 million rabbits (raised on commercial farms) are slaughtered worldwide every year, producing about 1 million metric tons of rabbit meat. The world’s leader in rabbit meat production is China, representing over 30 percent of total global production.

Apart from fish, snail and insects, rabbit meat has the highest amounts of protein and contains very low fat. It also contains less calories and sodium than other meats but contains more calcium and phosphorus (which is very good).

As a result of these properties, rabbit meat has become the ‘super meat’ for people looking to eat healthy meats and live a healthier lifestyle. Rabbit meat is also very widely accepted. Unlike snails and pork, there are hardly any religious or cultural taboos about consuming rabbit meat.

Across Africa, rabbit production is still a niche industry. But as the number of health-conscious and special-need consumers grows, the demand for rabbit meat is expected to rise in the coming years on the continent.

However, entrepreneurs like Moses Mutua of Rabbit Republic in Kenya, and Farmer Brown in Ghana, are already exploiting the potential rewards of rabbit farming on the continent.

In addition to local consumption of rabbit meat, there’s also a huge export opportunity. Rabbit meat is popular in countries such as Italy, Spain, France and China. These countries consume the most rabbit – about 8kg per person – and are the best export markets for rabbit meat.

8) Wild Game

Top 8 Meats in Africa -- Wild Game -- Smallstarter Africa

Across Africa, wild game or “bush meat” has been a source of animal protein for thousands of years. Even today, the prices of bush meat are much higher than “mainstream” meats like beef, chicken, fish and pork.

Many people think wild game is mostly consumed by poor and rural people. That’s not true. In fact, sophisticated meat consumers are drawn to wild game as a healthy alternative to commercially-grown animals. The natural origin of wild game – devoid of antibiotics, anabolic steroids, hormones and other additives used in commercial livestock farms – makes it a significant player in an increasingly health-aware market in Africa.

However there are two key trends that threaten the business of wild game on the continent. The first is unsustainability. As Africa’s population grows and the continent continues to rapidly urbanize, there is a real danger that wild game populations could be depleted to unsustainable biological levels.

The second threat is the advent of diseases like the Ebola fever which has affected the desirability of wild animals, especially in many parts of West and Central Africa.

Despite these challenges, there is an emerging trend of wild game domestication that will create interesting opportunities for Africa’s meat market in the future. In West Africa for example, grasscutters – a large rodent popular for its savoury meat – is now grown on several commercial farms. Rather than hunt them in the wild, grasscutters can be produced at sustainable levels to meet the growing market demand for bushmeat.

In southern Africa, up to 80 percent of game animals are being kept on private land. Currently, about 20.5 million hectares of marginal agricultural land are owned by commercial wildlife ranching farms containing 2.5 million heads of game. This commercial activity is predominantly driven by the demand for wild game meat.

The next 30 years will be interesting to watch…

Africa has everything it takes to exploit the huge opportunity to meet its own needs for animal protein. However, the reality is if we don’t step up to this golden opportunity, Africa could be spending billions of dollars over the next 30 years on meat imports from foreign sources.

And Africa can do better than meet its own domestic needs. There’s a global opportunity for meat exports to international markets which could earn the continent a lot of revenue.

In all, the amazing opportunities in the meat products market over the next 30 years will create a lot of wealth and jobs if we take the advantage.

We can do this.

Let’s go Africa!