By Dr Gerard Prinsen
Our analysis of interviews conducted with butchers and eatery owners in urban and rural Moshi District, in the Arusha Region of northern Tanzania, continues apace, with the sources and destinations of meat being the subject of this second instalment in my blog series.
The information gained from this social science strand of Livestock, Livelihoods and Health’s multidisciplinary research is vital in informing the work of the project looking at meat risks. It will increase our understanding of important links in the chain that meat travels along from farmer to end consumer (the ‘meat value chain’) – and as such will also improve our insight into the potential food safety risks at these links.
Meat value chain
The research saw 64 people individually participating in semi-structured interviews in which set questions were asked about meat, food safety and the regulatory environment. The responses were split into four groups: urban and rural butchers, and urban and rural eatery owners. Analysis of the responses shows important patterns with differences and similarities which may need further exploration.
First, a significant difference in decision-making between butchers and eatery owners. When it comes to purchasing the raw materials of their trade, price and trust are important factors – but while for butchers the former is most important, the latter is key for eatery owners.
The vast majority (87%) of rural butchers buy the cheapest cows or goats on offer at auction or sold directly to them at their premises. The preference is the same for urban butches, albeit less markedly so (59%). The issue of cash flow may be one of the motives behind this clear preference. One urban butcher commented: “We go to three different auctions a week as we don’t have enough working capital to allow us to buy cows for the whole week.”
Conversely, eateries prefer to buy the meat they will cook and sell from butchers they know and trust. “I buy meat from one butcher. They understand me and know the standard of meat I want,” said one. Another said: I have a contract with one supplier who brings the meat here every morning. He knows perfectly the type of meat I want and that he can’t bring poor meat for me.”
Butchers, urban and rural alike, were similar in overwhelmingly (94% and 87%) choosing to slaughter cattle only. Reasons given for this preference included that it was not economic to slaughter small livestock, that many households arrange for the slaughter of their own small livestock, and that dealing in fish and chicken requires buying and running a freezer, both costly and difficult with frequent power cuts.
Although, the information was not expressly asked for, many butchers, urban and rural, also expressed a strong preference for bull meat over cow meat. “Females have less steak meat than bulls,” said one respondent. “Female cows have light meat and sometimes you may find a foetus in their stomach,” said another.
Urban and rural butchers were less in accord with each other though over where they slaughter their cattle: while a clear majority (71%) of urban butchers said they use third-party slaughterhouses, a similar proportion (75%) of rural butcher said they use their own slaughter slab. However, this finding might not stem from a difference in preference alone as it also became clear in the interviews that urban butchers are often uncertain about the legality of using private slaughter slabs.
While butchers it seems are strongly cattle-oriented, only a minority of eateries (41% of urban and 40% of rural) said they choose to cook only beef. Other items on eatery menus include goat, sheep, chicken and fish. However, the vast majority of eateries sell only one or two kinds of meat. Only a few urban eateries sell three.
The interviews also show that a clear majority of both butcheries and eateries (65%-80%) might best be described as ‘generalists’, not catering for any specific demand or market; rather, they sell to any customer in their neighbourhood or passing by. Minorities from all four groups of interviewees though do cater for specific groups and expressly value maintaining and developing long term relationships with these customers.
One rural butcher said: “The Muslim community complained that they were eating carcass meat as it was not slaughtered the way required by their religion. So the system was changed to cutting the animal’s throat.”
Another said: “During mountain climbing season, tour operators buy meat to prepare food for the tourists.”
Butchers also mentioned, unsolicited, the desirability of winning large contracts for specific markets (e.g. for a school, or a police post) – but this seemed neither something they relied upon or constant, but more of an occasional ‘stroke of luck’
- Read the first in this blog series: ‘Shades of grey in understanding meat safety’