KUALA LUMPUR / MUMBAI (REUTERS) – For over a decade, Kuala Lumpur street vendor Abu Zahrim Ismail has seen vigorous sales of dendeng daging, a dried spicy buffalo meat, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan .
But this year, the spread of the coronavirus pandemic has reduced shipments of buffalo meat from India, driving up prices and sales.
Most meat processing plants in India, the world’s second largest beef exporter and Malaysia’s largest supplier, have been closed as the South Asian nation struggles to contain the pandemic.
“The virus has really turned everything upside down,” said Abu.
India generally sells more than 100,000 tonnes of buffalo meat each month, but in March exports dropped to around 40,000 tonnes, according to two exporters.
Sales should have been even weaker in April due to widespread blockages, and even in May should remain well below normal despite the reopening of parts of the Indian economy, they added.
“At the moment, things are not going in the favor of our industry. Even if it is food, it is not considered essential for exports,” said one of the exporters based in the north. from the state of Uttar Pradesh. “Now all exporters are trying to move their current stocks they hold.”
Wholesale prices for frozen buffalo meat in Malaysia jumped 15% to 20% from a year ago this month during the Ramadan festival, which typically accounts for up to 20% of annual consumption from across the country as families come together to break up quickly.
“Typically Malaysians would consume around 350 containers of buffalo meat per month from India, now they have dropped to half,” said a Kuala Lumpur-based importer.
Decrease in retail demand during The Malaysian Lock also hit the overall import demand for meat.
“We are only open for sale during the movement control order. Sales have dropped by around 80%,” said Ayma Khan, president of the Association of Muslim Operators of Indian Restaurants (Presma).
GLOBAL MEAT MESS
In 2019, India shipped nearly 1.5 million tonnes of beef, which largely comes from dairy buffaloes, compared to 2.3 million tonnes sold by Brazil’s main supplier, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The lack of such supplies is most pronounced in Malaysia, which depends on India for 70 percent of beef imports, as well as in Indonesia where a quarter of imports come from India and buffalo are popular among low income groups due to its low cost. .
Indonesian buyers – who had to buy 170,000 tonnes of Indian beef this year before virus delays begin – are trying to move to other origins like Brazil and Argentina, industry sources in Jakarta said. .
But the global pandemic of Covid 19 has made it difficult to replace these lost supplies, especially after the world’s largest meat companies, including Smithfield Foods Inc, Cargill Inc, JBS USA and Tyson, have shut down in around 20 slaughterhouses and factories processing in North America after workers fell ill.
Brazil’s leading beef exporter was also affected, with the BRF meat processor recording 18 Covid-19 cases at the end of April in an industrial center employing around 3,100 people.
Indian meat processors are keen to restart factories after the restrictions are relaxed, but sustainable social distancing means that it will not be easy to get animals in the usual way.
Dairy cattle in India are sent for slaughter after reaching their peak, with factory workers generally going from house to house to buy animals which are then transported by truck to the slaughterhouses.
Animal markets – banned or severely restricted in terms of foreclosure – are also a key source.
“Questions remain as to how quickly raw materials can be purchased and processed in accordance with all social distancing rules,” an official with the All India Meat & Livestock Exporters Association told Reuters.
Exporters, importers and association officials were unwilling to be appointed due to the sensitivity of the food supply.
The net effect of the supply disruption from India will lead to lower overall meat imports in cost-sensitive markets in Asia, said J.Y. Chow, food and agriculture expert at Mizuho Bank in Singapore.
“The supply is disrupted, so any substitute will have to come from an upgrade, and this will therefore erode demand in volume. No other country sells buffalo meat in the volumes that India sells.”