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Bahrain faces sheep supply shortage

Manama, July 23, 2007

Bahrain is facing a severe supply shortage of Australian sheep, according to a top official of the Bahrain Livestock Company (BLC).

A drought in Australia has greatly reduced the number of animals available for export and suppliers are unable to cope with demand, said BLC chairman Ebrahim Zainal.

Production in Australia is expected to dip by 20 per cent, which is the lowest level in nearly 10 years following the recent drought, and could take up to five years for the sector to recover, according to the Australian government. This has forced BLC to ration the amount of meat it supplies to butchers, said Zainal.

He said the rationing was only a temporary measure that has been in place for two to three weeks. The expected national consumption of Australian sheep for this year is 600,000 to 650,000 live heads, said Zainal.

It ranges from an off-peak consumption of 40,000 to 45,000 sheep per month to an anticipated peak season consumption of 80,000 during Ramadan.

"We are currently receiving only 20,000 to 25,000 per month from our (Australian) suppliers," he said.

Zainal said the BLC has been forced to ration its distribution to local butchers. "We can assure the customer that by mid-August things will go back to normal," he said.

Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa on Saturday instructed government bodies to step up price control and build up reserves of basic commodities following the rise in demand for subsidised goods. He also gave assurances on sufficient supply of meat products in the local market despite a rise in demand.

Meat vendors, however, say that a shortage has gone on for over two months. They say that they previously received whatever quantities of meat they requested from their supplier BLC, but are now given drastically reduced quantities. "We used to get whatever we asked for, now I only get one head a day," said a Manama meat market butcher who would only be identified by his first name Abdul Jaleel.

"I need 300 kg a day for my customers. This is very difficult for us, and I'm losing customers."

Abdul Jaleel said BLC was providing the butchers with whatever amounts they demanded of Pakistani lamb, but that it was much more expensive and did not sell well.

"We're getting chilled Pakistani lamb for BD2.100 per kg and we sell it for BD2.500 per kg. But it's not moving, the locals don't like it," he said.

Zainal said BLC imports mutton from other countries such as Iran and Somalia, but not on a regular basis, "as and when available".

He said only the Australian market could be depended upon year-round to fulfil Bahraini demand. Government subsides for the meat industry amount to BD9.5 million a year, said Zainal.

He said the Consumer Protection Directorate controls prices, fixing BLC's selling price at 0.830 fils per kg, and allowing the butchers to sell for up to BD1 per kg.

"The selling price of locally slaughtered meat in Bahrain is the cheapest not only in the Middle East, but also in the international market," said Zainal.

Manama meat market butcher Sameer Al Helaybi said he currently receives only three sheep a day instead of the usual 15 to 20 he needs.

"I have two shops, what am I going to do with three sheep," he said. "The company (BLC) is protected by its stockholders, and the customers are protected by the Consumer Protection Directorate. What about the butchers? Who protects them? We're caught in the middle. We want the BLC to co-operate with us, find a solution to this.

"Why don't they import the more expensive kinds of Australian lamb? What about the government subsidies? Can't they stand to lose some of that money? I am now supporting my family from my savings." - TradeArabia News Service




Tags: Bahrain | Livestock | Australian sheep | butchers |

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