Reputed as one of Mzimba’s largest meat markets, Gowoka abattoir sits on a massive expanse of land on the dark soils, loamy and fertile, with rivers that water the life running all year round.
The rural community has always been the breadbasket of the district but slowly the story is fading away.
The abattoir lies within Dolora village in T/A Chindi, Mzimba which is located in the hills, almost 200km North West of the Boma.
It is a highly disorganised market. Cows are set loose in the middle of the market with their dung becoming the carpet on which customers and traders tread.
It is even the platform that vehicles move on and footpad unto the cows themselves. From the slaughtering slab flows a thick and torrent shed of red turned brown blood. Every nook and cranny of abattoir is littered with dirt, cow bones, skin, dried intestines and other parts of animals.
All those are still bearable! The smell oozing out of the market to the outside world and more especially to the residents surrounding the place can simply be best described as ‘terrible.’
The feeble-hearted cannot control the nausea, especially after watching the process of slaughtering on the slab as well as the skinning and butchering of the cows to pieces.
It is definitely not a pleasant experience to the eyes and soul. All these are still normal parts of any abattoir market, perhaps. However, residents of the estates surrounding the market can no longer bear the pains and embarrassment the market has caused them.
They cannot cope being neighbours to the many nuisances the market is posing to them. For instance, residents of Kabwafu Estate have been crying out for the past six months against the smell, cow dung littering everywhere, which has flowed into their estates, in addition to the indiscriminate parking of trucks which block their entrances, cows breaking windscreens of their vehicles, break lights of their vehicles and in some cases, causing accidents for them.
The fearful aspect of their nightmares is the free movement of cows on the roads, leading to their streets and some estates. In most cases, according to the residents, the cows are always on the rampage, causing confusion for residents and passers-by.
Zebediya Mseteka, who has been living inside the estate for over 20 years, told Malawi24 that cows on the rampage and breathing in foul smell have become a phenomenon the residents will have to cope with especially for those who built their houses there.
“Me as a tenant, I have a choice to leave this environment at the expiration of my tenancy. But with the economic situation of the country, I have no choice,” he lamented.
Mseteka explained that the only problem the environment used to have been the foul smell which engulfed all the estates surrounding the abattoir and even passers-by.
He said the residents, especially in his estate, had written several letters to the M’mbelwa District Council on the issue of the foul smell. While that battle was still ongoing, herders and trucks full of cows began to litter everywhere – frontage of houses, cows carelessly on the rampage, dead cows on the floor with many buyers willing to buy, they took the centre stage.
“Then, I gave up the hope, realising that another long hard battle has just sprung up,” he said. Members of the New Apostolic Church close to the abattoir had to abandon the front entrance of their church building for the back because of the disturbances of the cows.
Some of the congregants said they were always struggling to enter the street leading to their church on weekdays and Sundays. According to them, the street has become flooded with trucks and lorries full of cows.
If it is not the trucks and lorries, it would be multitude of cows on procession into the abattoir. While these cows are proceeding, some would become wild thereby injuring passers-by, destroying vehicles around.
They explained further that after several futile efforts were made, they resolved to be entering inside their church through the back.
Living in the estate has also become a nightmare for Zebediya and many others.
He said he was not enjoying the full benefit of living in an estate. According to him, benefits of an estate should include serenity and freedom of movement.
But since the realisation dawned on him that they are actually cohabiting with animals, he has restricted his children to only inside the compound.
“Can you imagine what the trauma of living in here is like? I cannot send my kids on errand outside for fear that they will be trampled upon by a cow,” he said.
They cannot even enjoy riding bicycle within the estate. If the noise of the cattle breeders and their trucks is not disturbing you, then it would be some terrible smell and smoke emanating from inside abattoir or somewhere outside, choking the nose and lungs.
“It also hangs all over my apartment for some time. It is so bad that it is useless buying air fresher to diffuse the odour. It is nightmarish living here, especially, when you do not have a choice.
“So, I plead with M’mbelwa District Council to look into our plight and do something urgently about it,” he said.
Another resident, addressed simply as Nyakanyasgo, told Malaw24 that she believes there was enough space inside the abattoir to accommodate the trucks full of cows if properly organised.
“After all, abattoir is supposed to be mechanically operated,” she said.
Nyakanyasgo highlighted some issues she termed as the headaches they are having being neighbours to the meat market. According to her, when they bring in the cattle, they come in with about 20 to 30 extra people, who most times, have no business with the cattle. These set of people, Nyakanyasgo alleged, become motorcycle riders, pickpockets or turn robbers at night.
The man said he had to discipline one who actually confessed that he came to Gowoka for greener pastures but when he could not find anything tangible to do, he started selling chicken boiled eggs but it was not sustaining, so he added pickpocketing.
“And he confessed that there were many of them in that business,” Nyakanyasgo added.
Link between meat and climate change
Richard Nyirongo, a civil servant veterinary retiree, wished the M’mbelwa District Council could make a slab over the flowing blood coming out of the meat market. He said it would be decent that way and, according to him, it shows sensitivity to their sensibilities.
The exposed washed blood, he believes, breeds all sort of unimaginable flies, roaches and offensive odour.
“Whenever I have course to pass through that place, I try hard not to look at the flowing blood but what about the smell? I cannot control that,” he said.
The 74-yearold says: “Reducing heavy meat consumption would lead to a per capita food and land use-related greenhouse gas emissions reduction of between 15 and 35 percent by 2050. Going vegetarian could reduce those per capita emissions by half.”
He analyzed about 500 different food consumption and production scenarios worldwide and found that nearly 300 of them could feed the global population without cutting down more forests.
The biggest contributing factor to food-related deforestation is eating meat. The single most important thing is to eat less beef, which is the overwhelming factor.
“In the average Africa’s diet, greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the food we eat is about the same as the emissions resulting from the energy we use,” said Richard.
Animal-based foods in Africa accounted for about 85 percent of food-related greenhouse gas emissions in 2009 and about 90 percent of all agricultural land use.
Reducing global meat consumption is critical to keeping global warming to within 2°C (3.6°F) as outlined in the Paris climate agreement.
Nyirongo said that any additional food consumption anywhere results in a land use change, which is an “extreme” assumption to make. He said that even new meat production in some areas, such as Northern region of Malawi, would necessarily result in a change in land use.
“But such an extreme assumption could be valuable because few other scientists studying the environmental impact of food production factor land use changes into their emissions calculations,” he said.
The world can be fed without causing more deforestation mainly by reducing meat consumption. Going vegetarian is the best dietary change benefitting the forest and climate.
“A vegan or vegetarian diet is associated with only half the cropland demand, grazing intensity and overall biomass harvest of comparable meat-based human diets,” he says, cautioning that its conclusions do not consider whether significantly reducing meat consumption is politically practical or desirable.
He further explained that even if the amount of farmland needed to feed a growing global population remains the same, changes in the way cropland is used could result in additional greenhouse gas emissions. If grazing land is converted to cropland, for example, emissions changes could result from the change in soil nutrients.
Dr. Wisdom Theu, a veterinary doctor, said consumption of dead animals of sort was not good for human health. “They pose serious health problems,” he stressed.
Unfortunately, majority of the animals are not inspected, which is a constant threat to health, according to him. He explained that many of those cows were sick; they harboured infections like tuberculosis, lung and kidney diseases.
“In fact, majority are worm infested. The safe haven for us is the intense heat applied during cooking. Those who love to eat intestines should be extra careful,” he warned.
Theu said Malawian abattoirs were not well maintained at all; they are rather used as revenue collection. He highlighted some of the problems to be poor maintenance as there was no proper regulation, no strict enforcement of rules and regulations, no freedom for veterinary doctors to have their say and ways in terms of clinical duties. Generally, abattoir is under the control of government but the government is not in control of it in terms of infrastructure.
The slaughtering slabs, he said, ought to be kept clean before and after slaughtering; there should also be strict regulation of time for slaughtering of animals on the slab and there should be availability of water at the slab.
“Malawian abattoirs are a disgrace to the nation; it is a system that needs to be overhauled urgently. Unfortunately, no private abattoir to rival government owned,” he said. Theu explained further that there were many unethical practices in most of the abattoirs that go unchecked.
He said: “In every 10 cows slaughtered for instance, there are three to four pregnant ones among them, which is highly unethical and this is so because they are not inspected. No room for anti-mortem and post-mortem policies.”
Another problem of abattoir that he pointed out was the butchers whom he said were supposed to condemn some animals either in parts or as a whole but butchers refused to do so for maximum profit.
He concluded that abattoir is not a place to burn or roast animals as it is common in some northern parts of the country, Mzimba and Karonga in particular. He explained that the practice of using tyre to burn cow skin as it is mostly practiced at Gawoka abattoir is injurious to health.
According to him, the use of tyre produces hydrocarbon, which is inimical to human health, “those mostly at risk are Ponmo (cow skin) eaters,” he said.
Mzimba District agricultural development office responds
The Mzimba District agricultural development office under Ministry of Agriculture through its field assistant Mr. Jeromy Nundwe, denied knowledge of such activities at the abattoir.
“They can never slaughter any sick or stressed cow at Gowoka abattoir. It can never happen. Rather, they take the dead ones to a pit and burn them off. Moreover, there are always veterinary doctors on ground. All those allegations are baseless,” he said.
He added that they have commenced the removal of shanties at Gowoka abattoir to ensure a healthy and hygienic abattoir condition in the district.
The Agriculturist Nundwe, stated that the M’mbelwa District Council won’t relent in its effort to improve the hygienic condition of the market and not to hurt anyone.
“I want us all to see this administration’s initiatives as a way of sanitising and ensuring hygiene in the Red Meat Value Chain. We should not see this project as a government instrument to disrupt the activities of the market,” he said.
Jeromy disclosed that the completion of the project would be at the advantage of the abattoir operators and Gowoka traders at large as the proposed project will usher in a mega city equipped abattoir with a standby clinic within the complex which can take care of the health of workers and other emergencies in the abattoir and also a mini market which will cater for some basic needs.